Two lawsuits were filed this week that seek findings of "legal personhood" for chimpanzees, akin to a corporation's status as a "person" in the eyes of the law. An organization called The Nonhuman Rights Project has been working for several years towards obtaining actual legal rights for non-humans. The group has been analyzing the common law of all fifty states for trends that recognize animals as legal persons; for instance, several states allow an animal to be a beneficiary of a testamentary trust.
The group determined that New York had the legal precedent that gave them the best chance of obtaining legal rights for animals. The group plans three separate lawsuits on behalf of chimpanzees, the first two of which were filed on Monday. The lawsuits seek writs of habeas corpus, which are court proceedings brought on behalf of someone who is being held captive, most likely in prison. If the writ is issued, the captors must appear in court and show cause why they believe they have the legal rights to continue to hold the prisoner in custody. These lawsuits are being filed on behalf chimps that are privately owned. The lawsuits ask the courts to remove the chimps from their owners, where they are being held "captive," and place them in animal sanctuaries.
Whether these particular chimps should be removed from their present owners is insignificant. The true importance of this case is that, if successful, it would be one more instance of animals being recognized as more than chattel, or personal property. I've already mentioned the animal trusts. I have also written before on this Blog about people being awarded pain and suffering damages for the deaths of the pets (For instance, here and here.) If the current trend continues, what will be next? Is it discrimination when the fancy restaurant won't allow dogs to sit at the dinner table?
I don't like this current trend of affording animals more "rights." I agree that animals should be protected, but there are already laws that protect animals. There are very stiff penalties for people who abuse, mistreat, or neglect animals. What more do the animals need? I don't think animals should be given free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to bear arms. If anyone disagrees, I'd love to hear some comments on this one.