Posted April 22, 2014
A New York judge ruled this week to grant lawyers representing two chimpanzees a hearing to challenge the animals’ confinement, according to Time. AAAS Science also published an article here, The New York Times here, and The Wall Street Journal here.
The judge’s ruling is a response to a complaint filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of two chimpanzees held at Stony Brook University. The university will be required to demonstrate to a court that it has reason to detain the chimpanzees.
Justice Jaffe’s decision was largely administrative and gave little indication of her stance on the merits of the case. Animal rights supporters initially hailed it as a major breakthrough, citing the fact that Justice Jaffe’s order had included the words “writ of habeas corpus,” a legal means to address the unlawful detention of prisoners, according to The New York Times.
Justice Jaffe amended the rule striking the language about a writ and emphasizing that it was simply a formal way of directing the university to her courtroom to present its case.
“All this does is allow the parties to argue their case in court,” said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the New York State court system.
The ruling marks the first time in U.S. history that an animal has been covered by a writ of habeas corpus, which typically allows human prisoners to challenge their detention. The judicial action could force the university, which is believed to be holding the chimps, to release the primates, and could set a future precedent with other research animals, according to AAAS Science.
“This is a big step forward to getting what we are ultimately seeking: the right to bodily liberty for chimpanzees and other cognitively complex animals,” says Natalie Prosin, the executive director of the animal rights organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NHRP), that filed the case. “We got our foot in the door. And no matter what happens, that door can never be completely shut again.”
Stony Brook University said it “does not comment on the specifics of litigation, and awaits the court’s full consideration on this matter.” The school is represented by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, which declined to comment, according to The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. courts have been reluctant to consider recognizing non-humans as “legal persons” entitled to rights afforded by writ of habeas corpus. New York appellate courts have repeatedly rejected petitions filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project, including a lawsuit involving the same animals that was filed in a different judicial district.
For more information on animal welfare, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.