Happy’s Hapless Helpers
Posted on January 5, 2021
In a short decision, a New York appellate court affirmed the denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus brought by Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of Happy the Elephant. This was no surprise, particularly because the same court had reached the same decision in a case brought by the same lawyers just three years ago. Indeed, Mr. Wise sought to have the case heard in another part of the state in order to get around the court’s earlier rejection of his theories, claiming, in a bit of refreshing candor, that the case should be heard in remote Orleans County, which had no connection at all with the case, because the courts in the Bronx, where Happy lives, “aren’t amenable to his arguments.”
I could mock the Nonhuman Rights Project all day for wasting the time and money of their opponents and misusing the courts in a quixotic and meritless quest to show that some nonhuman animals are legal persons instead of, you know, focusing on animal welfare laws or other steps that could actually help the animals they care about. But instead, I will just briefly restate a few of my points from many prior posts:
- The lawsuit is more about the interests of Mr. Wise and the NhRP than it is about Happy. If Mr. Wise should ever find a judge willing to rule in his favor, what will he have accomplished? He won’t have won freedom for Happy, who will not be roaming the streets of the Bronx anytime soon. He will instead have created a cottage industry in which animal rights lawyers can use the courts to advance their own agendas, not the animals’ agendas, or in damages cases such as the cases that PETA sometimes brings (e.g., the “Monkey Selfie” case), a cottage industry in which animal rights lawyers can use the courts to fundraise and to profit.
- The lawsuit is deeply confused about the idea of personhood in any case.
- The law is a human institution, made for humans, by humans.
- Lawsuits like this impose real costs on the animal owners that must defend them, and in the case of the Bronx Zoo, which owns Happy, must defend them through multiple appeals. Perhaps this did not occur to a tenured professor like Mr. Wise.
How is it that so many smart people can spend so much time, money, and energy to accomplish so little? Is there not something more productive they could be doing, even in the realm of animal welfare? Perhaps the phenomenon of lawyers seeking the great writ for elephants is an example of the “overproduction of elites.” Perhaps we have too many highly educated people with not enough useful work to do.
Because the NhRP does not “know when to fold ’em,” the next stop is the New York Court of Appeals, which could agree to hear a discretionary appeal.