Chimpanzee loses bid for habeas corpus
by Carol Thompson
A New York appellate court has ruled that a chimpanzee named Tommy is not entitled to the same rights as people, hence, does not have to be freed from its cage and sent to live in a chimp sanctuary.
In a unanimous opinion, five judges of the state’s Supreme Court Appellate Division declined to extend habeas corpus to the chimpanzee. Tommy is kept at Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, N.Y., about 50 miles northwest of Albany.
“We . . . conclude that a chimpanzee is not a “person” entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus. . . .” the court stated in last week’s decision. “While petitioner proffers various justifications for affording chimpanzees, such as Tommy, the liberty rights protected by such writ, the ascription of rights has historically been connected with the imposition of societal obligations and duties. Reciprocity between rights and responsibilities stems from principles of social contract, which inspired the ideals of freedom and democracy at the core of our system of government. Under this view, society extends rights in exchange for an express or implied agreement from its members to submit to social responsibilities.”
The decision continues, “Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights – such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus – that have been afforded to human beings.”
The writ of habeas corpus was filed by The Nonhuman Rights Project. The group alleges that Tommy, who is 26 years old, is being kept in a “small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed.”
Tommy’s owners, Patrick and Diane Lavery, could not be located for comment.
The court did not rule out other avenues for The Nonhuman Rights Project to pursue.
“Our rejection of a rights paradigm for animals does not, however, leave them defenseless. The Legislature has extended significant protections to animals, subject to criminal penalties, such as prohibiting the torture or unjustifiable killing of animals, the abandonment of animals in a public place, the transportation of animals in cruel or inhuman manners or by railroad without periodically allowing them out for rest and sustenance, and the impounding of animals and then failing to provide them sustenance. Thus, while petitioner has failed to establish that common-law relief in the nature of habeas corpus is appropriate here, it is fully able to importune the Legislature to extend further legal protections to chimpanzees.”
Image: Flickr: Nick Fornaro