An Interview With Steven M Wise, The Foremost Animal Rights Activist In The World


The rights to be free from exploitation, slavery, abuse, and murder, among those rights we humans declare for ourselves, are not accorded to animals by any government in the world.

Of all animal activists, there are few who operate in the rarefied air of Animal Rights. Those whose efforts are actually directed at changing law and government. And the most prominent of those activists is Steven M Wise. All the rest of us are working on animal protection and animal welfare.

Steven M Wise is President of the Nonhuman Rights Project. He holds a J.D. from Boston University Law School and a B.S. in Chemistry from the College of William and Mary. He has practiced animal protection law for 38 years throughout the United States. He teaches “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Lewis and Clark, Vermont and St. Thomas Law Schools, and at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and has taught “Animal Rights Law” at the Harvard, University of Miami, and John Marshall Law Schools.

He is the author of Rattling the CageToward Legal Rights for Animals (2000); Drawing the Line – Science and the Case for Animal Rights (2003) Though the Heavens May Fall – The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery (2005), and An American Trilogy – Death, Slavery, and Dominion Along the Banks of the Cape Fear River (2009). A documentary about the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project that focuses on the first cases in which it sought common law writs of habeas corpus in four New York Supreme Courts on behalf of four chimpanzees will be released by DA Pennebaker, 2012 recipient of an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and his wife and fellow filmmaker, Chris Hegedus in late 2015.

I approached Steven M Wise about the possibility of his doing an interview with Species and Class, a blog I edit which examines human and animal relationships from a socialist perspective. He kindly agreed. This is the interview I conducted, which I am pleased to also publish on the Armory.


RWV: Many activists have heard of your efforts to gain personhood status for chimpanzees, but are unclear on the specifics or the legal arguments you are advancing.

SMW: The Nonhuman Rights Project so far has been arguing that a chimpanzee is a “person” (an entity who has the capacity for one or more legal rights) within the meaning of a common law writ of habeas corpus (habeas corpus is an ancient cause of action used to free any “person” detained against her will) as a matter both of liberty and equality, two powerful legal values. I urge anyone who is interested to watch my recent 14 minute TED TALK about the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project.

RWV: What is the status of your efforts so far?

SMW: In December of 2013, the NhRP filed habeas corpus lawsuits in three New York Supreme Courts (the lowest court in New York) on behalf of four chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, who were being detained at Stoney Brook University for use in non-biomedical research, and Tommy and Kiko, who were bring detained by individuals at their homes in Gloversville and Niagara Falls. The first step was to have each Supreme Court issue an “Order to Show Cause” against each jailer that would require them to come to court and give a legally sufficient reason for imprisoning each chimpanzee. Each of the three judges refused and the NhRP filed an appeal to the intermediate court of appeals for that court’s district. All three intermediate courts of appeals affirmed the lower court’s refusal, but each on a different ground. The NhRP has motions pending before New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, in Tommy’s and Kiko’s cases, asking that court to hear further appeals. In Hercules and Leo’s case, the NhRP refiled the case in a different court. This time the Judge issued the Order to Show Cause and a hearing was held in Manhattan on May 27, 2015 in which Stoney Brook argued that the chimpanzees could not be persons, which the NhRP rebutted. That decision is also pending.

RWV: Are there other cases that might be successful?

SMW: The NhRP intends to file many more cases in many more states on behalf of great apes, elephants, and cetaceans (whale and dolphins).

RWV: What can you tell our readers about the Nonhuman Rights Project?

SMW: It is an organization of lawyers, law students, law professors, sociologists, political scientists, and many others who intend to secure legal personhood for at least some nonhuman animals through common law litigation (that is not by invoking statutes of constitutions, but the law that judges make.

RWV: As a lawyer and a legal scholar, what legislation would you suggest activists work to enact which would help achieve personhood status for non-human animals?

SMW: Personhood can be achieved both by judges rulings and by legislation. The NhRP is using the judicial route. Legislators can also pass statutes that makes certain nonhuman animals “persons” for many purposes.

RWV: The law recognizes inanimate objects as persons (ships) and legal fictions as persons (corporations). Why is it so difficult to convince courts to recognize sentient beings as persons?

SMW: Because it has never been done before and because all nonhuman animals have always been considered not legal persons, but legal things.

RWV: Have you advice for the animal movement?

SMW: Be smart. Be strategic. Be persistent.

RWV: What do you envisage as the future of the animal movement?

SMW: It will continue to grow quickly. If it is smart, strategic, and persistent, it will prevail.


Author’s Note:

Natasha Sainsbury, of Good Karma Graphic Design, has joined Armory of the Revolution as Editor, and is responsible for the transformation of the blog’s appearance.


2 thoughts on “An Interview With Steven M Wise, The Foremost Animal Rights Activist In The World

  1. sharing everywhere…experiencing a horrendous struggle locally trying to cancel pig wrestling event due to occur on Monday…we have worked so diligently and are exhausted and disheartened even though over 23,000 humans signed our petition…a victory would have been wonderful for the community although they have fought us like crazy….wonderful for the youth of 4-H…wonderful for the mistreated, frightened, victimized pigs. the farm community issues statements about animals not having rights and being property…the paper honors only that point of view…we are so dismayed. both “rights” of animals and “compassion” are pooh-poohed around these here hoosier parts! a horrible situation. Indiana is becoming the pig slaughter capital of the world under governor mike pence and the Koch brothers. we are wall to wall pigs now…born to be slaughtered…artificial insemination reigns!

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.