In a court case in which animal rights activists sought to free two privately owned chimpanzees from confinement in cages, in a unanimous vote New York state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, determined on May 8, chimpanzees are not legal persons, and as such don’t have the rights of legal persons. Accordingly, the court ruled it is up to legislators to decide what rights and protections animals deserve.
In rejecting the petitioner’s claim, Justice Troy Webber, who wrote the court’s opinion, said while chimps and humans share many behavioral, cognitive and social abilities, those shared abilities “do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties.”
The Nonhuman Rights Project, which had brought the lawsuits to free the chimps, had previously sued unsuccessfully to win freedom for two chimpanzees held by the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The organization argued chimpanzees, like humans, are entitled to bodily liberty. In both cases, the court disagreed.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News