We may be the only lawyers on earth whose clients are all innocent. — a poster for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Steven Wise is an attorney for animals, notably two chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko, who live in captivity in upstate New York and are asking the courts for relief. A rumpled 60-something legal scholar who has taught animal-rights law at Harvard and Stanford, Wise is president and founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which calls itself “the only civil rights organization in the United States working through litigation, public policy advocacy, and education to secure legally recognized fundamental rights for nonhuman animals.” Wise and his colleagues at the NHRP plan litigation on behalf of elephants and dolphins as well. They aim not merely to win court judgments for a handful of intelligent and social animals who, they allege, are being maltreated; they want to change the legal status of animals in American courts.
While much legal advocacy on behalf of animals has been aimed at enacting and enforcing anti-cruelty laws, Wise has taken a different and more radical tack. In 2013, he went to court in New York State to argue, in separate cases, that Tommy and Kiko should be granted the limited but fundamental legal right of habeas corpus, which is the right to petition a court to determine whether or not a “person” is being imprisoned unlawfully.
We’ll consider the sometimes-heated debate between animal-rights activists and animal-welfare advocates another time. But it seems clear that the debate about how humans should treat animals is moving in just one direction: Towards empathy.
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