It’s not in the Constitution — at least not verbatim — but most of us would agree that each able-minded, law-abiding American citizen is a “cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental right not to be imprisoned.”
So what about this guy?
For the first time, making legal people out of monkeys has become a thing. According to Reuters, an animal rights group has filed the Nation’s first lawsuit to establish the “legal personhood” of chimpanzees, seeking to have a 26-year-old monkey named Tommy, along with three of his monkey colleagues, set loose from monkey jail in a research facility at Stony Brook University in New York.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Tommy’s “detention” in a “small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed” in central New York is unlawful and demands his immediate release to a primate sanctuary.
Chimpanzees “possess complex cognitive abilities that are so strictly protected when they’re found in human beings,” Steven Wise, the president of Nonhuman Rights Project, told Reuters.
“There’s no reason why they should not be protected when they’re found in chimpanzees,” he added.
The lawsuit on Tommy’s behalf is among three the group is filing this week on behalf of four chimps across New York. The other chimps are Kiko, a 26-year-old chimp living on a private property in Niagara Falls, and Hercules and Leo, two young male chimps used in research at Stony Brook University on Long Island, the group said.
Wise said the Nonhuman Rights Project is just warming up, pledging to sue and sue and sue until animals are granted legal rights under U.S. law. “These are the first cases in an open-ended, strategic litigation campaign. We’re just going to keep filing suits,” he said.
But Wise didn’t discuss the group’s discriminatory practice of advocating to establish legal rights for some — but not all — members of the animal kingdom. Nor did he divulge whether the group had struck upon a course of action for other inscrutable nonhuman entities such as plants, minerals, solar radiation, television characters, abandoned shipping containers, orphaned websites and baby dolls — which, for all anybody knows, could have people claim, on those entities’ behalf, equally defensible standing for the “legal personhood” designation.
The lawsuit relies on the habeas corpus argument; that is, that a person has the right not to be detained without due process. Problem is, chimps aren’t people. So the Nonhuman Rights Project is seeking to use New York’s (relatively) liberal body of precedent law on the matter in the hope that Tommy and his chimpanzee cohorts will be legally reborn as people — people with inalienable rights.
“The focus here is whether a chimpanzee is a ‘person’ that has access to these laws,” animal law expert David Favre told Reuters.