Did A Court Just Recognize Chimpanzees As ‘Legal Persons’? It Depends Who You Ask

Lawyers suing for the freedom of two chimpanzees used in biomedical research are celebrating a court order issued on Monday. But some legal professionals caution that their excitement is premature.

Attorneys for nonprofit legal advocacy group Nonhuman Rights Project are asking the New York Supreme Court to release two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, allegedly held in a lab at a public university. The court has agreed to hear the case, which the NRP lawyers say is of massive legal significance.

“The implications of this order are that Hercules and Leo have been granted legal personhood with the right to a writ of habeas corpus,” Natalie K. Prosin, a lawyer and the group’s executive director, told The Huffington Post. “Our nonhuman animal petitioners have a foot in the door, but the significance of this precedent-setting order means that no matter what happens in their individual case, the door can never be completely shut again.”

The NRP argues that it is appropriate to grant legal personhood — and therefore the right to be free from captivity — to chimpanzees because of their human-like intelligence, self-awareness and emotional complexity.

Hercules and Leo are held at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. The NRP is asking the court to grant a writ of habeas corpus, which would free them from captivity at the university and allow them to be dispatched to a primate sanctuary in Florida.

The two-page “order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus” was signed by Judge Barbara Jaffee of the New York State Supreme Court. The order sets a court date of May 6, when Stony Brook is scheduled to present its argument about why the chimps should not be released.

Prosin said she feels “quite optimistic that the right to —> Read More