Chimpanzee Habeas!

The distracted boyfriend meme. The boyfriend ("Letters Blogatory") ogles a passing woman ("CHIMPANZEE HABEAS"), while his girlfriend ("Elephant Habeas") looks on in disgust.

The Nonhuman Right Project, fresh off another loss in its elephant habeas quest, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Michigan, supposedly on behalf of chimpanzees held at the DeYoung Family Zoo. The legal issues are in my view the same whether the non-human animal in question is an elephant or a chimpanzee, so I don’t need to explain why it makes no sense to say that chimpanzees are not people, although I suppose the case for chimpanzees as people may be stronger than the case for elephants as people. You can read my prior coverage.

Just a few days after the NhRP filed its petition, the judge denied it, ex parte, on the grounds that a chimpanzee is not a person and therefore not entitled to issuance of the writ. She disposed of the petition in one sentence. I think this is the right way to respond to these petitions. The main reason is that responding to the NhRP imposes significant costs on zoos. Given that the NhRP keeps losing and losing, why should it be able to continue to impose these costs on others? Secondly, though, if you think as I do that the NhRP’s position that some nonhuman animals are people is obviously wrong, you can send a signal by dismissing it out of hand. Maybe the signal will reach the NhRP’s donors or funders, though I am not holding my breath.

By giving these petitions short shrift, judges can also deprive the NhRP of one of its sillier talking points: “judge issues writ of habeas corpus for elephant!” Issuance of the writ isn’t a victory, just a call for the prisoner’s custodian to answer and provide the legal grounds for imprisonment. And if the NhRP thinks that issuance of the writ has some substantive importance or signals something about the judge’s view of the merits, then it should expect judges who have not drunk the Kool-aid to deny its petitions ex parte.

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