No habeas corpus for Happy the elephant


According to today’s opinion of the New York High Court in In the non-human rights case Project, Inc.written by Judge DiFiore:

For centuries, the common law writ of habeas corpus has protected the liberty rights of human beings by providing a means of securing release from unlawful confinement. The issue before us in this appeal is whether the petitioner Nonhuman Rights Project can apply for habeas corpus on behalf of Happy, an elephant residing at the Bronx Zoo, in order to obtain his transfer to an elephant sanctuary. Since the writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty interest of human beings to be free from unlawful detention, it does not apply to Happy, a non-human animal who is not a “person”. subjected to illegal detention. So, while no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion, the lower courts duly granted the motion to dismiss the motion for writ of habeas corpus, and we therefore affirm….

The fact that legislative bodies have extended various statutory protections to nonhuman animals does not inexorably create a common or constitutional right to liberty. Nor can judicial displacement of a carefully crafted statutory and regulatory legal framework at the state and federal level governing animal care be justified by some people’s view that zoos allegedly confine wild animals only. for “human entertainment” (Rivera, J. dissenting op) – a characterization of the purpose and mission of zoos to which the Bronx Zoo, operated by a renowned wildlife organization that advances scientific research and conservation efforts educational conservation around the world, would no doubt vigorously oppose.

Justices Wilson and Rivera dissented. From Justice Wilson’s dissent, with which Justice Rivera apparently largely agrees:

The question here is not whether Happy is a “person” – Happy is an elephant. The question is not whether Happy’s detention violates any law: historically, the Grand Writ of Habeas Corpus has been used to challenge detentions that violated no statutory rights and were otherwise lawful but, in one case , unfair. Since this appeal follows a motion to dismiss, the legal question posed is whether the detention of an elephant can be so cruel, so contrary to the essence of an elephant, that the writ of habeas corpus should be made available under the common law. . The story of the “‘greatest of all writs'” demonstrates that the reasons given by the majority for refusing to extend it to Happy are baseless and incompatible with its role as a “historic patent of freedom” which “cannot be restricted by legislative action”. Whether Happy’s conditions are severe enough for the writ to be issued, and whether, if so, she would be better off in sanctuary, are questions of fact on which the Supreme Court has made no decision because that it was constrained by erroneous jurisprudence of the Appeal Division.

From Judge Rivera’s dissent:

[H]History, logic, justice and our humanity must lead us to recognize that while humans without full rights and responsibilities under the law can invoke the writ to challenge an unjust denial of liberty, any other autonomous being, regardless either his species, can too. Such an autonomous animal has the right to live free from involuntary captivity imposed by man, which serves no other purpose than to degrade life.


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