No that’s not a headline from The Onion – it’s a true fact. In case you haven’t heard, a group calling itself The Non-Human Rights Project filed three lawsuits across NY State arguing for the release of four chimpanzees held in captivity by various owners. But while the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are “persons” under the First Amendment, NY courts did not extend personhood to chimps.
The lawsuits asked that the four chimpanzees be moved to a sanctuary “where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America,” the group said. Why North America as opposed to being returned to their native countries of origin, I don’t know – I mean, how free is a sanctuary after all? Had they won couldn’t another group then sue arguing that the chimps are being overly restrained in the sanctuary and should be released to the wild? If they were declared legal persons under the law, could the chimps then sue for public benefits like Welfare and Medicaid? When the issue was raised that the chimps don’t even know that they are suing, the plaintiffs argued that many times lawsuits are brought on behalf of children who are not cognizant that claims are being made on their behalf. Equating chimps to children is patently ridiculous, though as the father of three boys I can certainly attest that there are times when the comparison is dead on.
But I chose to write about this case because the group is appealing according to their spokesperson who stated “These outcomes allow the NHRP to proceed to the appellate courts.” (which is as rosy a way of saying “We lost, but are appealing” as I’ve ever heard). Not only does NHRP have a plan to appeal they claim to be ready to file similar lawsuits across the country on behalf of captive animals “who are scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous, such as elephants, dolphins and whales.” These people need to be reined in themselves. This morning I read the second installment in a NY Times series about the harsh life of an 11 year old girl living in the shelter system. The poor in this country have such limited access to justice -particularly on the civil side – that I couldn’t help but wonder why this group would not devote the same time and energy to helping out “captive humans” who need a place to live out their lives in as decent and dignified a way as humanly possible.
Courts should treat these cases harshly. These cases never had any merit. Many laws already protect animals from abuse and if there was abuse, action can be taken by a number of organizations and agencies specifically set up to do so. So it’s not as if animals have no rights – they certainly have the right to be free from neglect and harm,. But to claim that they are persons for all purposes under the law is a frivolous attempt to grab headlines and attention and thereby no doubt secure donations from fanatical animal-rights activists who will support this futile endeavor. Once this appeal is rejected, if they file again in NY a court should sanction them for filing frivolous claims and enjoin them from bringing further actions on behalf of non-humans. The court system can barely take care of homo sapiens as it is.