Friday, May 29, 2015

Do chimpanzees have habeas corpus rights?

Chimpanzee Rights Get a Day in Court | WIRED - Brandon Keim:

May 27, 2015 - "More than a year after the starting fight for legal personhood for the research chimpanzees Hercules and Leo, the apes and their lawyers got their day in court. At a hearing in Manhattan on Wednesday, a judge heard arguments in the landmark lawsuit against Stony Brook University, with a decision expected later this summer. At stake: the question of whether only human beings deserve ... rights.

"A decision could set a precedent for challenging, under human law, the captivity of other chimpanzees — and perhaps other species. It’s a radical notion, and many legal experts doubted whether the lawsuit, one of several filed late in 2013 by the Nonhuman Rights Project, would ever reach court.

"But Justice Barbara Jaffe decided to consider the arguments. 'The law evolves according to new discoveries and social mores,' she said while presiding over the hearing. 'Isn’t it incumbent on judiciaries to at least consider whether a class of beings may be granted a right?'

"Jaffe posed that question to New York assistant attorney general Christopher Coulston, who represented the university, where the two chimps are housed. Coulston had argued that Jaffe was bound by the previous decisions of two appellate courts, which had ruled that other Nonhuman Rights Project chimps didn’t qualify for habeas corpus, the legal principle that protects people from illegal imprisonment.

"Both those decisions are controversial. In one, judges decided that habeas corpus didn’t apply because the chimp would be transferred from one form of captivity to another — in this case, a sanctuary. But illegally-held human prisoners have been released to mental hospitals, and juveniles into the care of guardians.

"In the other appeals court decision, judges declared that chimps are not legal persons because they can’t fulfill duties to human society. But that rationale arguably denies personhood to young children and mentally incapacitated individuals, as several high-profile legal scholars, including Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe, pointed out. He filed a brief on behalf of the Nonhuman Rights Project, saying the court 'reached its conclusion on the basis of a fundamentally flawed definition of legal personhood.'"

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