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.
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.
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