SOURCE: Nonhuman Rights Project

Nonhuman Rights Project

October 09, 2014 13:45 ET

Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) Successfully Completes Oral Argument in Appeal of Internationally Renowned "Tommy" Chimpanzee Case

Five Appellate Judges Question NhRP Founder Steven Wise in a Packed Courtroom; Decision Expected in 4-6 Weeks

ALBANY, NY--(Marketwired - Oct 9, 2014) - Oral argument was heard yesterday in the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department in the "Tommy" case filed in December 2013 by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) demanding that the court issue a writ of habeas corpus and grant him the right to bodily liberty.

Five appellate judges (Presiding Justice Karen Peters, Justice John Lahtinen, Justice Elizabeth Garry, Justice Robert Rose, and Justice Michael Lynch) were well informed and actively engaged, questioning the NhRP founder Steven M. Wise for twice the allotted time scheduled to hear the case, while a crowd of over 120 members of the media and supporters looked on. For virtually the entire time, the panel asked questions that went to the heart of the case. 

A sample of some of the questions and summary of answers is listed below (PLEASE NOTE: these are not quotes or verbatim questions/answers):

Q: Isn't legal personhood just about human beings?
A: No. The New York Court of Appeals has made it clear that legal personhood is not synonymous with human being. Legal personhood means that the entity counts in civil law. Using the same sources as the New York Court of Appeals, there many examples of legal persons that are not human beings including a river, a religious holy book, and a mosque.

Q: Why not go to the legislature with these cases?
A: The courts and legislatures are co-equal branches. Either branch could act. Whatever the legislature may or may not do, this court has a duty to recognize that Tommy is a common law person entitled to a writ of habeas corpus.

Q: Aren't you asking that Tommy go from one form of confinement to another?
A: One of the sanctuaries we'd like him to go to is Save the Chimps sanctuary in Florida. They created an artificial lake and 13, three-acre islands. On which, the chimpanzees live in groups of 20-25. This is as close to the wild as possible within North America. Tommy is currently being held in solitary confinement in a cage in a room in a warehouse-type structure with a small portable television.

Q: Why isn't the ASPCA or some other animal welfare organization involved?
A: We're not claiming that this is a welfare issue; we are claiming that Tommy is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus because he is being unlawfully imprisoned and therefore being deprived of his fundamental common law right to bodily liberty.

Q: Have you asked the respondent to voluntarily relinquish the chimpanzee?
A: Yes, we asked him twice, in writing, and offered to help send Tommy to one of the designated sanctuaries. We said that we would drop the case if the respondent agreed, but he refused.

Mr. Wise's closing comments were as follows: "The uncontroverted facts demonstrate that chimpanzees possess the autonomy and self-determination that are supreme common law values that the writ of habeas corpus was constructed to protect. Both common law liberty and equality entitle him to common law habeas corpus personhood within the meaning of Article 70. This court should reverse and remand with an Order for the Supreme Court to issue the Order to Show Cause and proceed under Article 70."

Prior to yesterday's events, in July 2014, the appellate court issued a ruling indicating that it takes Tommy's case seriously. The 4-judge panel voted unanimously to grant a preliminary injunction that prevents Tommy's "owners" from removing him from New York State pending the completion of all appeals or further order of the court. In order to obtain this injunction, the NhRP had to demonstrate that it was likely to prevail on the merits of the appeal. With this decision, the court has indicated that this appeal has a reasonable chance of success.

A decision is expected in 4-6 weeks.

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