A New York appeals court will consider whether chimpanzees are entitled to “legal personhood” in what experts say is the first case of its kind.
On Wednesday, a mid-level state appeals court will hear the case of 26-year-old Tommy, who is owned by a human and lives alone in what attorney Steven Wise describes as a “dark, dank shed” in upstate New York.
The argument has been that scientists have found that a chimp is cognitively similar to humans, therefore deserves some of the same rights. In this case, the Nonhuman Rights Project is asking the court for a writ of “habeas corpus,” which compels a person’s captor to explain why they have a right to hold a person captive.
The lower court that heard this case first, threw it out.
The judge in the case said he agreed with their arguments, but did not agree that New York’s “habeas corpus” law applied to a chimp.
The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department, which heard arguments today, has signaled it is taking this case seriously.
Earlier this year, it issued a preliminary injunction preventing Tommy from being moved outside the state.
It’s unclear when this court will issue its decision, but these kind of changes in the interpretation of law are usually handed down by higher courts.