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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

I'm a people person

Hey, chimps are people, too!

Its lawyers said that personhood rights have already been applied to corporations, rivers and ships. If chimps are also eligible, they are then eligible for the writ of habeas corpus, which gives those who believe they are unlawfully detained or imprisoned the right to appear in court.

During the hearing, Nonhuman Rights Project’s president and animal-rights lawyer Steven Wise drew parallels to past court cases over the rights of slaves, prisoners and Native Americans.

Assistant Attorney General Christopher Coulston said these cases didn’t apply.

“There is simply no precedent anywhere of a nonhuman animal receiving the kinds of rights they’re talking about,” Mr. Coulston said.

But there is an understanding that law evolves, said New York Supreme Court JusticeBarbara Jaffe, based on scientific discoveries and social mores.

“Witness marital rights,” she said. “Isn’t it incumbent upon the judiciary to at least consider whether a class of beings may be granted a right or something short of a right, under the habeas statute?”

In a brief filed Friday, the attorney general’s office wrote that current animal-rights laws are sufficient, and to grant chimps additional rights was a slippery slope.

To extend the writ of habeas corpus “could set a precedent for the release of other animals held in captivity, whether housed at a zoo, in an educational institution, on a farm, or owned as a domesticated pet,” the brief reads.

Yeah, these are fringe extremists, but the fringe has a way of sneaking into the mainstream -- they just hit and hit and wear everybody down. This may be one of those wearing-down moments, since it's the first time ever (I think) that a "human rights for animlas" case has gotten an actual court hearing.

The idea of treating rights for humans and nonhumans as equal is so twisted and fraught with peril that it seems absurd to have to even have to talk about it. Of course we must treat those who are the most vulnerable (children, the elderly, the infirm and, yes, animals) with respect and care. How we treat them, in fact, is a measure of how civilized we are. But "rights" involve a set of accompanying obligations, which animals are not capable of recognizing.