A Storyville documentary: Following animal rights lawyer Steven Wise's unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans.
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This programme contains some strong language from the start
and scenes which some viewers may find upsetting.
These animals are extraordinarily cognitively complex.
They have their own cultures...
..they're self-conscious, autonomous and self-determinate.
They have a theory of mind so that they not only know that they
have a mind, but they know others have a mind.
They understand that they are individuals who existed
yesterday and will exist tomorrow because, when you imprison
a chimpanzee, the chimpanzee understands that tomorrow he's going
to be imprisoned and, as far as he knows, it's not going to end.
What we are trying to do is change the way people view
nonhuman animals because, right now, the line between human beings
and nonhuman animals is at an irrational place.
It's, "Are you a human? You have rights.
"You're not a human, you don't." We're saying that's wrong.
It's a hell of a war,
there's going to be a lot of battles in the war, but it's time to begin.
Steve, did you ever think...?
Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye.
All persons having business
for this appellant division
of the Supreme Court in the state of New York, let them draw near.
First case is the matter of Nonhuman Rights Project v Lavery.
Mr Wise, I believe you're arguing.
Thank you, Your Honour, may it please the court.
My name is Stephen Wise...
'Just a few things. I just got an e-mail from Stephanie...'
We want to make sure that the judge has as small a number of
reasons for throwing us out without breaching the merits of the case.
-Yeah, well, keep me informed.
That is the one that someone gave me in 1979,
that was the first time I opened this book up and said,
"Holy smoke, I had no idea that we were treating animals this way."
At one point, this was the only book in the library.
Everything else, really, has gathered as a result of this book.
When I read Peter Singer's book, I had kind of an epiphany
because I thought, "Well, why am I a lawyer?
"I'm a lawyer in order to pursue justice,
"to try to raise up the underdog," and I thought,
"I can't think of beings who are more brutalised than
"this in greater numbers and if I spend my life working on their
"behalf, I will have done more than
"anything I could do as a human lawyer."
So I immediately changed the focus of my law practice,
almost on a dime. My law partner was stunned.
When I see nonhuman animals who are being horribly used
and exploited and who are killed by the millions or the billions,
I see all these lives being taken for frivolous human reasons
-and it's all they have, just like it's all
And I don't believe
that there's something extraordinarily exceptional
about every human being that they somehow have
something that allows them to be the masters of the world
and all the nonhuman animals are the slaves of the world.
So I decided to bring the whole problem to the attention
of the legal system and then do something about it.
All we can do is kick the first door open,
that's what we're trying to do, we're trying to kick the door open
and have people consider the personhood of nonhuman animals.
I taught at Harvard,
the first class at what I call animal rights law
in the spring of 2000.
So it was the first time Harvard ever had a course like that.
People laughed at me and they barked when I went into a courtroom
and people thought what I was doing was exceedingly odd.
Isn't this our culture gone awry here a little bit?
What you do is you erase the line that has been artificially
drawn between human beings and nonhuman beings.
-That's not an artificial line.
-It IS an artificial line.
They are not human beings, they don't have humanlike
intelligence and putting them
on the same legal standing as a human being, that's insanity.
Without further ado, Steve Wise.
It is great to be back here. I feel like a Borscht Belt comedian here.
I have been practising animal protection law -
this kind I call doggy death cases - for 30 years.
Dogs who are ordered killed because they were very bad dogs.
But I thought to myself, "I can save five or six dogs' lives a year
"and save some other animals too and that should be enough to
"get me into heaven," but the problem is
is that, in the United States alone,
for every beat of my heart, 160 animals are killed.
So I can work for the next 40 or 50 years
and I can save the lives of one heartbeat's worth
of animals. I didn't want to do that.
So I helped form the Nonhuman Rights Project.
And now we've been laying the groundwork for the first
lawsuits that are going to truly,
seriously take on the idea of whether a nonhuman animal has
to be a legal thing or whether or not
it's possible to be a legal person. There's this thick legal wall.
On one side of the wall are us now, all of us human beings.
We all have legal rights, we all have the capacity, we are
all persons, we have the capacity for legal rights.
On the other side of the wall is the rest of creation
and every nonhuman animal is seen as a legal thing, rightless.
So how do you get the attention of the judge?
How do you say,
"Hey, I shouldn't be a thing, I should be a legal person"?
The judge could say, "I'm sorry, is someone saying something?
"I don't see you.
"You're invisible, you're invisible to the law because you're a thing."
And when you start studying the history of the common law,
you realise that women were not persons for many purposes,
children weren't, and slaves.
The word "personhood" is extraordinarily complex.
In fact, most people thought about it
when the Citizens United case came down.
For the first time in their life, it dawned on them
that an entity that was not a human could be a person.
So, for example, now humans are persons,
but so can a corporation, so can a ship, so can a partnership.
And I argue that these nonhuman animals,
all four species of great apes,
all of the elephants,
all the cetaceans, are so cognitively
complicated that these beings should be persons today
and they should have certain kinds of rights
that are fundamental to them.
So the purpose of the Nonhuman Rights Project is to persuade
a court to make a legal punch through that wall.
Steve, this is a case that presents the opportunity for the first
time to acknowledge animals as having legal rights.
-And do we really want to do that...
in the face of the potential consequences that would
flow from it?
I'm just talking about the very few animals that we're thinking of
at the beginning.
We're talking about apes, we're talking about cetaceans,
-we're talking about elephants.
-And why those?
Why are those going to be a different set?
First of all, they're not native to the United States.
They don't have a large economic value,
there's been a lot of research done on them,
cognitive research that kind of reverberated in ways in which
we can identify with them.
The slippery slope moves you
immediately to the dogs and cats, doesn't it?
Because if you do that for this one animal,
you've done it for all animals.
Well, we're not asking that a chicken have rights or that a cow
have rights or that they even be deemed legal persons.
What we're saying is that this gorilla or this dolphin...
But if the judge lets this happen,
PETA's going to file a suit the next day and go for chickens.
And we'll have to see what their arguments are.
It's kind of terra nova.
People haven't tried it, so we have to figure out what we can do
but we know that where they are now is wrong.
The Nonhuman Rights Project is planning
on bringing probably two suits
in 2013 in two states in the United States.
-These are really...
Two states, we haven't yet chosen those states.
We have about 70, that's seven-zero, volunteers.
They're law professors or they're lawyers or they're law students.
Liz! How are you? LAUGHTER
So what we want to do is try to figure out, through our work today,
the way that we're going to win these suits.
We have to understand how judges think.
Right, one of the hurdles that we're going to have to overcome
is the judge saying, "Listen, you're animal welfare people -
"you have the Animal Welfare Act, you have humane slaughter.
"Why isn't that enough?"
That raises a whole other issue, which is -
how do we characterise this case?
Because if I am the other side,
I want to characterise it exactly in that way.
"Hey, Judge, this is an animal case," and we're saying,
"Hey, Judge, this is a civil liberties case."
This is not an animal welfare case.
-This is a "human rights" case.
Because no court has ever been asked to decide to what degree
a nonhuman animal should be entitled to equality because of...
-because we're like them.
You know, the animals that we're looking at most closely
are the different species of great apes because they're really,
really smart, so I'm looking to speak to the world's experts in...
..in those areas, all the people who study those specific animals.
Especially the cognition.
Those are the people that I'm trying to track down.
Hey, Tatu, Tatu.
She's saying "milk".
Who wants milk? Can you sign?
What colour is the milk? Do you remember?
White, yes. You're so smart!
TATU WHOOPS SHE MIMICS
Tatu was cross-fostered by Allen and Trixie Gardner,
so when she was just two days old, she joined this cross-fostering
project, meaning that she was raised exactly like a human child.
She learned to use spoons, she sat in a high chair, she wore bibs,
she learned to use the potty, she had a bath every night.
So, in that environment, from the humans she acquired her signs.
The sign language stuff is really nice evidence for the project
When people see the chimps signing,
they see nonhumans in a completely different light,
cos they're like, "Wait a minute, they just said something."
-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
Thanks for helping us.
I'm Steve's wife, Gail. Hi, how are you?
Well, I actually went to a talk many years ago
and it was the beginning of you talking about this stuff.
Yeah, we used to talk about what we were thinking of doing and then what
we were planning on doing, and now
we talk about what we're doing. Yes.
I'm really interested in the signing,
what sort of signing has gone on since the two chimpanzees
have moved here.
-Between themselves and with others too.
Yeah, they're signing with the other chimps. I'm excited. Yeah.
-She's saying, "Chase, chase."
-Just like that? That's "chase"?
This is "coffee", so you've got to be careful!
Now she's saying, "Black, black." Black's her favourite colour.
-You can see black clothes, the water and the trees
and then she's signing "tree". So different than where they were.
It's not freedom by any stretch of the means, but still...
You know, they're all institutionalised in research
or in captive situations,
so they have the need to be close
to caging and to be in a confined space.
You know, they don't climb trees,
they don't use some of the things we have here.
We'll go take a look at the island areas.
You know, it's outdoor space without bars over your head, but...
That's OK because it's there
-and they want it, they have it.
-Autonomy is what I talk about because we value it so much.
And when we punish people, we punish them by taking away
their autonomy and that's really what putting you in prison is.
It's stripping you of your autonomy in every way.
And that's a terrible, terrible punishment for you.
Breaks my heart.
In Japan, there was a chimpanzee colony
and then the place built
a kind of lab that jutted into the place
where the chimpanzees were outside.
And then they had computer terminals inside and outside
and that's where they have the experiments about the memory.
They, like, flash something on the screen for, like, a quarter second.
They'll flash a series of numbers and then they cover up
the numbers in, like, a tenth of a second and then the chimpanzees can
then recall what the numbers were and press them in the right order.
I did that, I was not as good as the chimpanzees.
I know you want to see him. I KNOW you want to see him.
-When he's ready. We can only go to people when they're ready.
He would like to learn a click language.
If we knew a click language, we could probably...
instil it in Tika.
You can see that Kanzi's already asking for you to talk to him.
You want me to come in and see you?
Yeah, he wants me to come in and see him right now.
-OK, go ahead.
-'Question - visitors have ball.'
-Do you have a ball?
Kanzi wants to know if you have a ball.
Is this the ball or is it a bigger ball?
Come say "big" if you want a big ball.
Little ball. Is that what you want? You want that little ball?
Kanzi can understand all kinds of things,
all kinds of novel sentences.
I'm going to put on my mask
and we're going to try a sentence for Kanzi, OK?
Kanzi, could you take my shoe off, please?
You might need to untie it.
So he may be coming to you to see if you might help us
in filing an affidavit,
talking about your work, especially if we have an ape,
talking about the cognitive abilities that they might
have that would then help us persuade courts.
Are you going to try to make a case that apes, cetaceans and elephants
are particularly intelligent and different from other animals?
No, we're just going to make a case that there are certain criteria,
what I call practical autonomy, and that any animal who meets that
criteria should then be a legal person.
I'd want every single known fact about chimpanzee cognition
-to be in an affidavit.
We have to overwhelm the judge with everything that's possibly
And, of course, the fact that Jane Goodall's on our board -
when we contact someone, remind them that Jane Goodall is on our board.
OK, well, we are 100% sure that New York is our jurisdiction.
And we appear to have four chimpanzees
who are possible in New York.
-So who would we go with?
-Well, let's start off with Charlie.
-Who is his mate? Kiko.
Kiko is deaf from brain damage when he was abused.
And I looked at the YouTube video of Charlie that they put out.
Actually, they have been on TV, National Geographic
did something on them.
He and his wife lived in the home with them.
Charlie, big boy. He doesn't need a diaper, huh?
I mean, he's 23 years old now, he's got a large enclosure and you
need to look at that because there is a moral issue here with Charlie.
He's not where he's supposed to be
but he is very attached to his trainer.
I mean, he's living an artificial life, but I'm not sure that we
-can make a case that it would be right to take him away.
-It's a no.
-How about the ones in the... What's the one in Bailiwick?
-Merlin and Reba.
-Merlin and Reba, OK.
Merlin and Reba, both acquired from the circus,
one is male, one is female.
Let me give you an idea - Bailiwick also has paintball.
-That's what we had, yeah.
-Right, that stuck into my...
I was looking at the Better Business Bureau
and on a scale of A+ to F,
-they give it an F.
Well, I think this is going to send shock waves
in directions that we cannot even conceive of right now.
-Which is the whole purpose of what we're doing.
-We're not in there to save two chimpanzees in Bailiwick Zoo.
I mean, we ARE there
but they also represent other nonhuman animals as well.
They said that the other chimpanzee died about three days ago
and that Reba was 55 and that they only live till 60.
I think he's been there for seven years with that other chimpanzee
and now, for three days since Reba died, he's all by himself.
I'm sure he must be grieving and mourning
in the way that chimpanzees do.
That chimpanzee is depressed.
He's not interested in doing anything, he's just...
He's just sitting there...
On the internet, there's all kinds of comments.
People are saying,
"How come the zoo hasn't been cited for cruelty to animals?
"How come the zoo...? How come it's allowed to operate?"
But it appears to be perfectly legal
and under the statutes of New York, there's nothing else that we can do.
Well, with any luck... It's almost May.
May, June, July, August, September, October...
Seven or eight months, we have a shot of getting him out of there.
I've found Merlin's home.
I'm already...I imagine him, like, running around here.
When we did introductions,
we tried to have a balance of male and female
because chimps in the wild live in multi-male, multi-female groups
and male chimps get along very well.
In the wild,
they would have a community of which all the chimps are familiar
with each other but they would go off in groups of two, three,
four, five, small subgroups in range over many miles, so here,
they had the opportunity, definitely,
because the islands are so large that they have their favourite spots
and they can break apart
and then they usually come together at night to sleep and for meals.
So this is the best way that we can replicate that.
Obviously, it's not perfect.
This is always one of my favourite sights,
just like a crowd of chimps together, hanging out.
I mean, I love that because you see the sanctuary
and it's so easy to forget their past.
-A 37.5lb chimpanzee was chosen last night to make this ride.
This particular one was selected on the basis of physical
and psychological characteristics.
-Five, four, three, two, one, zero.
There it goes, zero.
There it goes, it's up in the air.
This success moved the United States closer, by a big step,
to launch a man into space and bring him back safely.
CHIMPANZEES SCREECH CAGES RATTLE
We always like to show people... This cage
came from the Coulston Foundation
and we actually paid to have it brought here because we just
-want people to remember how they were treated.
So there was a shelf that the chimp could sit on, but this wall,
the back wall of the cage,
was hooked up to a hydraulic mechanism
and then could be used to squeeze forward.
So if they wanted to inject the chimp
with some sort of experimental substance or to anaesthetize them,
the wall would come forward
-and they would just squeeze them up against the bars.
And they lived like this their entire lives.
Um, decades, and I just can't even imagine it.
And then in 2002, we were able to move everybody from what was
the Coulston Foundation to Florida.
It was the largest rescue of chimpanzees in history.
And now they're here.
As soon as I saw this place, I said, "Oh, my God."
I was texting people,
I said, "I hope we've found the place for Merlin."
-It is a beautiful place.
-It's a spectacular place.
I can really imagine him being here.
-So let's assume, you know, Merlin is declared a legal person.
Does that mean all chimpanzees in New York State are legal persons?
-No, it simply just means it's Merlin.
-Just Merlin, OK.
-Well, it's funny, the common law, it moves case by case.
So, ultimately, it would seem like you wouldn't have to
litigate these things any more. Eventually, why litigate?
-There's already been ten chimpanzees declared a person.
Right now, we haven't made it public
which state we've actually picked and which chimpanzee.
It's really the first salvo in a strategic war
-that's about to break out in the fall.
Where's Merlin? I do not see him.
Oh, my God, are you serious?
There was a sign that said there was a chimpanzee?
Oh, my God.
He's not here.
I can't believe this.
We're two months away and this is, like, the worst-case scenario.
Oh, my God, Steve is going to flip.
Merlin died last night.
-'You're kidding me.'
'No. That is the worst news...'
He was punching himself in the face for some time
and they finally decided to take him to the vet
and he had an infected tooth and had a root canal
and they said he didn't make it on the way home.
And they had an autopsy and he had an engorged liver
and it just couldn't handle the anaesthesia.
I'm really sorry to break this news to you.
'Oh, well, yeah, I'm glad you're there
'and you know and now we have to figure out our next step.'
A week ago today,
Natalie went to Bailiwick
and learned that our petitioner Merlin was dead
and so we're going back to the two that we had originally been
-talking about, which are Kiko and Charlie at Niagara Falls.
What are they called now?
The Primate Sanctuary, they're called The Primate Sanctuary.
They were, at one time, called Monkey Business.
Their website advertises 26 monkeys and 18 exotic birds.
And they say, "Contact us for parties"?
-"Book a presentation."
-"Book a presentation."
When I first started looking into these kind of people,
I remember going to their website specifically and just seeing all the
chimps dressed up in American flags and hats and waving their flags.
"It seems real, he's my baby."
He's like, "Coochie-coo..." you know that cutesy talk...
"It is as intense as a father loves a child.
"They aren't animals, they are my boys.
"I'm 'Daddy' and he understands Mommy - my wife Kristi."
It's kind of creepy. THEY CHUCKLE
I think it's REALLY creepy.
-This guy, we're not saying he's an evil person.
He's just essentially enslaved these animals and they...
I'm not so sure he's not an evil person.
It's like any kind of kidnapper.
-It's kind of delusional.
-Exactly, Charles, it's delusional.
There it is right there.
Let's see if we can see through here.
KNOCKS ON DOOR
Is this where Charlie the Karate Chimpanzee is?
-Can I get...? Can I buy a video?
-We don't sell videos.
Oh, I saw it on the internet.
No, actually, our facility isn't open to the public.
We're in the process of building a new sanctuary
out in Wilson, New York.
We just got approved on June 26th.
-OK. You taught the karate?
-I did, yeah...
-Well, my brother owns three martial arts studio in New York.
-Oh, I see.
So it was something that he picked up cos when he was a baby,
I used to take him there cos I'm working out
and he just picked him up and looked at him
and said, "Let's try it."
It just mushroomed into that, and the best part about it,
he loved doing it.
And when you watch his martial arts on, like, YouTube or something,
you can tell he's having fun because that was what it was all about.
-How old's Charlie now?
And we have our other chimp, Kiko, who's a deaf chimp that we rescued.
-Where was Kiko rescued from?
It was a TV series called Tarzan Comes To New York
and Kiko was the chimp in it.
-Well, you left the keys inside.
-So what? Chimps can't ride.
CAR ENGINE REVS
POLICE SIREN BLARES
'And supposedly Kiko bit someone'
and ended up getting the tar beat out of him.
He was hit on the head with a blunt instrument
and he ended up going deaf in both ears.
He's got about maybe 10% of hearing.
It must be so much work.
It's just nonstop and, I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it just being
with them so much and they just turn out to be really great chimpanzees.
OK, well, I won't take up any more of your... Thanks so much.
-All right, nice talking to you.
He wants to get 'em to a slightly less depressing
-place in his sanctuary.
-That sanctuary's not going to happen.
But that's the whole thing.
And I thought maybe he was independently wealthy or something
but he's trying to raise money for it...
A sanctuary, he's now up to 31 primates,
so 29 monkeys of various kinds and two chimpanzees.
But if his heart is in the right place...
It is in the right place, I think.
..which it seems to be at this juncture,
then he probably wouldn't mind having the chimps
being taken off his hands, except for one problem -
he has emotionally bonded with them.
Well, I know he has.
So, for him and the way he thinks,
-that's going to be like taking away his children.
-Tonight, the entertainment world
is mourning a popular primate -
Charlie the Karate Chimp passed away
at a sanctuary in Niagara County yesterday.
During his 26 years...
Well, I got an e-mail that Charlie, our chimpanzee in Niagara Falls,
one of the two of Charlie and Kiko, died of cardiomyopathy.
And in fact it was the third blow that we've had in the last
seven months in which our chimpanzee plaintiffs have died -
-Reba, Merlin and now Charlie.
I mean, captivity, it's just killing these guys
-so I don't want to take any more chances.
We need to locate every surviving chimpanzee in New York State
and file a suit on their behalf.
Yes, that's number one.
That says "Mayfield - 5 miles."
We're looking for something called Santa's Hitching Post
-and there was nothing like that.
-'No, I said it was a trailer park.'
Where did we get the name Santa's Hitching Post? I have no idea.
INCOHERENT ON PHONE
Oh, this is a trailer place. And they rent out reindeer?
There it is. Is it the Circle G or something?
CAR HORN BLARES
This might sound like a stupid question -
we saw somebody on The Today Show talking about reindeer...
-Yes, we do.
-You do? Can I see them?
Actually, this is Buddy coming at you,
this is one that was on The Today Show.
-Do both males and females have antlers?
-Yes, they do.
-And the one with no horns, that's the bull.
-Oh, cos he'll attack?
-Yeah, he actually comes after the gate.
-Oh, I see.
-Someone told me you had a monkey.
-There's a chimp in there.
Oh, he's in...?
He was actually in movies back in the day,
Project X and all them other...
-Chimpanzees in the space programme?
OK, stop flying.
Oh, he must be 30 or 40 years old.
We had one, she lived to be, like, 60-something years old at one point.
-Doesn't he get lonely?
-Yeah, he is.
He's supposed to be going to Florida to go on to another farm
because the last one that was in there was his little friend there.
She died actually not too long ago, so...
Just trying to find him a home where he can go
and be with other animals and, you know, more chimps
and have more room to run around.
You ought to see him through this window.
-He's eating, he's eating a banana.
-You see him eating now?
He's old. I'm not sure how old he is but he's old.
-This must be where he lives.
-Yeah, this is where he lives.
He's got a TV to watch and then he's got there, the jungle.
Yeah, he won't do much, he just sits there.
TV PLAYS IN BACKGROUND
Hey, Natalie. Well, we confirmed Tommy is one sad-looking chimpanzee.
Thanks for telling me about The Today Show
because I said I'd seen him on The Today Show and he came
and showed me his reindeer and then after a while,
we asked whether he had any other animals around.
He wasn't the owner, he was a handyman and they said they were
trying to get him to a place in Florida, that's what they said.
-We didn't ask anything.
-'I'm really sorry you had to see that.'
It was him, there were perhaps 10 to 12 empty cages
and then he was in one of them.
And about perhaps 15 feet away from him
was a small TV that was showing PBS, cartoons.
'Oh, God, that is so...'
Oh, please. I think we're all ready to cry, it was really...
It was a very sad thing.
I am going to the State University in Stony Brook
where two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo,
-are being held for research and locomotion experimentation.
If you go on Stony Brook's website, they talk about the primates
so that's why the chimpanzees must be there.
-MAN ON VIDEO:
-This is Hercules.
Hercules is helping scientists understand
the origins of human walking.
And this is Hercules' colleague, Leo.
By tracing the markers, the researchers were able to understand
that chimps swing their hips much more than humans when they walk.
OK, so I couldn't get any read from anyone
if they are aware of the presence of Hercules and Leo.
What I DO know is that people don't want to talk about it, they just...
-'Well, we can still file and if they're not there...'
And because Stony Brook is the State University,
we are going to go head-to-head with the Attorney General.
'OK, let's get moving.'
-Hello, David, thank you for coming.
-Hey, David, how are you?
-Nice to see you, long time.
-Do you want to do it like this?
I want to welcome everybody today
to the Nonhuman Rights Project moot court,
in which we will be helping Steve in the Nonhuman Rights Project
practise for our first lawsuits in Tommy's case.
Mr Wise, you can understand,
I'm sure, why we're somewhat concerned
about being the first court in the entire world
to come to the conclusions that you're arguing for
and it seems to me what you're saying is
if I see chimpanzees in environments
where they're not being appropriately treated,
where I think they're suffering a basic welfare problem,
I'm going to go in to get them out to put them
in environments where I think they are treated appropriately.
But if I see places where the animals are treated well,
then I'm not going to bother with them because what am I going to do?
Move them from one sanctuary to another?
So I'm only, ultimately,
focused on chimpanzees that are being treated badly.
Are being treated in a way that does not respect their autonomy
So why is this just not a welfare concern?
I mean, OK, so the Animal Welfare Act,
you don't think is good enough?
The anti-cruelty statutes are not good enough?
So why don't we just make the laws good enough?
-Have you tried to make the laws good enough?
-We have not tried to do that.
Have you gone to the USDA and asked them to enforce the Animal Welfare Act?
We don't think that they're violating the Animal Welfare Act
or they're violating the state's anti-cruelty statute.
You know he's in compliance with his licence in every respect?
We believe he is, that's right.
And that...that's the problem,
is that...is that there is no other place
where we can go for his benefit.
-Really? You can't go to the legislature?
Well, that's like saying if I have a problem, I don't follow brief,
what I do is I go to legislature. I have...
-Tommy has the right, we argue now...
-No, it's not quite the same as that.
-..has the right to habeas corpus.
-It's actually like saying
we have a system of laws that regulate the welfare of animals and you feel that they're insufficient.
What you're talking about is the welfare of animals here.
So rather than go to the systems that make those laws and try and have them properly enforced,
you want to come to our court and ask for a right that's never been granted in the history of humankind.
May I make a suggestion?
I feel like you've fallen for their trap.
You've dug yourself a hole and you can't get out of it.
-I don't see the problem.
-You don't feel stuck?
-No. Stuck in what way?
-Now we're arguing over welfare.
-The welfare of animals.
-That's because YOU keep using the word "welfare".
And so I figured, "OK, I've lost this judge, I'm not going to get him."
I think you're wrong.
-What you've lost is...
-Can I give you constructive feedback?
-Let me tell you what you said back then.
Bailiff, would you remove this woman?
-Remove her from the court.
I tell Gail when she plays you,
"If you just make a run, you should be able to take her."
Whose side are you on?
-I have to be on my wife's side.
-Well, what about your mother?
I'm usually on my mother's side,
unless she's in conflict with my wife.
You haven't been on my side in several years.
Oh, now it's getting ugly.
-So you're really breaking ground here on different levels.
-I hope so.
Cos no-one's ever done it before.
So we're trying to get all the affidavits in from all over the world.
And it happened, we got them. We got 'em.
'So what is the scientific argument that you will be making?'
Well, the scientific argument
is based on the affidavits of ten experts
we have from all over the world,
Japan, Sweden, Germany, Scotland, England and five more in the US,
based on 45 years of scientific observation
of chimpanzee language and communication, culture.
And it boils down to the fact
that all three cases, you know, Tommy and Hercules and Leo and Kiko,
they are autonomous creatures,
they should be able to live autonomous lives.
'If you are successful, if you win, what changes? What happens?'
I kind of view it as a legal transubstantiation,
where the nonhuman animal would come out of that court room
looking the exact same, but her legal status would be forever changed.
Dean, it turned out we had 400 citations. We were, like, stunned.
So, you know, if you can get to the judge and say,
"Judge, we're providing you with a pile of these affidavits,
"because all of these primatologists,
"all of these scientists have come to the same conclusion."
It's all science, science, science, science.
-Is this more advice?
-I see the wheels spinning in his head!
No, that's the Jewish mother.
-He was a terrific judge for us to go in front of.
-We had not considered that he would on the spot order us in.
-Not in a million years.
To have been able to have a full oral argument on the record...
-Without another side.
-..that we had, it's just mind-blowing.
He felt that since it had never been done before, he could not do it.
But he did everything he could to get us the best possible record,
to get us up to the appellant courts to be able to present our arguments
-to those people he felt had the power to do it.
We were thinking of all the different ways that we might end up losing,
and this turns out to be probably the best way to go.
-That's totally unexpected.
-Gosh! I just can't believe he kept helping us.
It's a legal victory for us, so we want to make sure
-that nobody misinterprets what occurred.
-So we need to put out a comprehensive press release today.
-Do you want to hear what Patrick Lavery said to the New York Times?
"Patrick C Lavery, the owner of Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, where Tommy lives,
"said that he had heard about the petition from reporters' telephone calls.
"If they were to see where the chimp lived for the first 30 years of his life,
"they would jump up and down for joy at where she is now.
"Mr Lavery said he had not seen or been officially notified of the petition."
He has now.
-This is the New York Times?
Oh, I love that. SHE LAUGHS
-'Kind of a bizarre lawsuit with big implications.'
At the centre of it is a chimpanzee,
and the key question is whether a chimp is a person.
-'Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project
'is seeking a writ of habeas corpus
'on behalf of Tommy, a 26-year-old chimp,
'arguing that animals with human qualities, such as chimps,
'deserve basic rights including freedom from imprisonment.'
-'The group is trying to invoke a right known as habeas corpus,
'a legal procedure which entitles inmates
'to have a judge review their detention.'
'Habeas corpus means "free the body"
'and it's been used throughout the years to free people
'from what's been considered an unjust incarceration.'
-'Under the law, a writ of habeas corpus
'can only be granted to legal persons,
'so the judge would need to find that chimpanzees
'have at least some limited rights traditionally reserved for humans.'
-'The landmark lawsuit was brought on behalf of Tommy,
'who lives caged on his owner's property in Gloversville.'
He's got seven rooms. He's got a room that he likes to sleep in,
another room where he likes to watch his TV
and there's other rooms he plays in.
It kind of hurts when you hear allegations
of people thinking that we're animal abusers here
and we're not treating him properly.
'Lavery insists Tommy loves the solitude
'and that his cage is licenced and inspected,
'saying he even has colour TV and receives enrichment daily
'including walls painted like a jungle.'
-'The owner claims that Tommy is just very happy.
'What do you have to say to that?'
I think that if Tommy is so happy,
I think the owner should move in.
-Oh, we're in this one today too?
-I think so.
-Oh, my God! It's you!
-There it is.
OK, we'll take three Daily News, one New York Times.
So, you're trying to argue that chimps should be...
-A legal person?
-Yeah, that's right.
It's a tough sell, but not a bad cause.
What do you guys... What are you guys here to talk about?
Dirty detective from Brooklyn framed a lot of people.
-Oh, I think I saw, like, a headline.
But this is far more interesting than what I'm talking about.
So, I suppose just reasoning this forward
in looking at the corporate personhood rationale...
It's not just corporations, it's ships, it's partnerships,
it's counties, it's states, there are lots of nonhuman persons.
There was a treaty last year
between the Maoris and the New Zealand government
where they agreed that a river was a person,
that in Hindu, an idol is a person.
I guess I would look to the Supreme Court's basis
for declaring corporate personhood,
since that strikes me as much more precedential for American purposes
than Hindu idols or New Zealand rivers, frankly.
-And you think this is a better fight, the legal fight?
Because you expect to win it,
or because it creates a really good set of discussions,
-the way Peter Singer does about, you know...
Both it creates and we expect to win it.
-We don't know that we're going to win this first round, but we will win it.
I like it. I like it.
Here we go.
I've got to tell you, this is a very interesting case, Steven,
because any time you kind of equate an animal with personhood,
it raises all sorts of questions.
This country has a very sordid history
when it comes to animals and humans and equating one with the other.
Of course, back in the early days of this country,
you had the three-fifths compromise,
meaning that African-Americans were three-fifths of a man.
And then, of course, those equating chimpanzees and apes
and stuff like that hideously so with black people -
I'd say, "Wait a minute, chimps are chimps, they are not human."
Obviously, we're not saying...
we're not saying that a chimpanzee is a human
and we're not equating chimpanzees with slaves.
What happens is that the legal pathway we're using,
a writ of habeas corpus,
is one that was traditionally used in England and in the United States
for slaves to try to challenge their status as a thing
-and move them into the status of a person.
So there's a lot of law out there and kind of a path in front of us
for how we might be able to do that for someone like Tommy.
So we're saying when we say Tommy's a person,
-we simply mean that Tommy has the capacity to have a legal right.
Well, I think you've clarified that.
We certainly wish Tommy and other animals like him well.
Steven Wise, thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you very much for having me.
Justice is heavy.
This week in the state of New York, we filed the first two cases
on behalf of chimpanzees
who were living by themselves and privately owned.
And today we're filing a lawsuit against Stony Brook,
which is a university here on Long Island,
which is imprisoning two chimpanzees
that they're using for biomedical research on locomotion.
If you had a message for Stony Brook now, what would that be?
Free the chimpanzees. LAUGHTER
Free the Stony Brook Two.
SHE CLEARS HER THROAT
The outcome was that he denied signing the petition.
He was not going to take the step of granting personhood to a chimpanzee.
It was the personhood issue.
-I was really expecting to see the judge.
-Well, you know, me too.
-I was, like, raring to go.
I haven't heard a peep from the folks in Louisiana.
-I always forget their names.
-New Iberia, yeah.
-Did you expect to hear something?
-Well, they claim that they own the chimpanzees at Stony Brook.
New Iberia confirmed they own them.
They probably want to keep this so quiet.
-I'm not at all surprised that they haven't surfaced.
'Well, Jane, the Humane Society has spent nine months undercover
'at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana,
'one of the largest primate research labs in the country,
'and she witnessed physical abuse of primates, monkeys being hit,
'but what was perhaps the worst
'was seeing animals driven to self-mutilation.
'The psychological abuse that these animals go through,
'being in isolation in small cages, many of them
'are tearing at their skin and their flesh with their hands.
'They had gaping wounds in their arms and legs
'and it was just terrible to see them literally driven mad.'
-'Mr Wise, your group
'has now lost its first three lower court rulings -
'what are your chances going forward?
'I'm not going to pretend that we thought
'that we were going to win at any of the trial courts - we did not.
'And if we won at this level,
'it would mean a lot to that single chimpanzee, but it would destroy
'our chance of being able to get it up to appellant court.
'And the reason that we want the decision up at an appellant court
'is that at that point it sets a state-wide precedent.
'And that's why we want the High Court of a state
'to make the decision in our favour.
'So have you already begun the appeals process?
'The appeals, we're already starting.
'The brief writing is going to go through the spring.
'and then we get on some kind of an oral-argument schedule,
'and up it goes.'
-'A New York appeals court is hearing a legal effort
'to have chimpanzees declared as persons.
'Attorney Steven Wise will argue Wednesday
'on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy.
'His group is also seeking
'the release of three other chimps in New York.'
-I am so nervous.
-This has been, you know, seven years' worth of work.
And it's... You know, everything rests on these ten minutes.
-I still think that one of the arguments is going to be welfare versus rights.
Why is this not a welfare case if you're claiming
-that Tommy is not being properly cared for?
And you have to go back to -
"That's not what we're talking about.
"We're not talking about..."
I can't get suckered into anything other than -
this is the detention of an autonomous being,
-we're not talking about how he's being treated.
One thing is with your private animal law cases,
sometimes you get confused whether it's a cat or dog.
Just remember that Tommy's a chimpanzee.
I should... I'll probably remember.
-Steve, how're you doing?
-How am I doing?
Oh, I'm just pondering stuff I've been thinking about for 30 years.
First case is matter of Nonhuman Rights Project v Lavery.
-Mr Wise, I believe you're arguing.
-Thank you, Your Honour.
May it please the court. My name is Steven Wise
and I first want to thank you for the privilege of appearing on behalf of Tommy,
who is a chimpanzee who is being kept in a cage in a warehouse in a town called Johnstown, New York.
Counsel, you want us to grant...
-Well, you wanted Judge Sise, but now you want us...
-Yes, Your Honour.
..to grant him immediate release from illegal detention.
-Is that correct?
-Yes, Your Honour.
Tommy in this circumstance is indeed a person who is entitled...
-YOU assert he is a person - we haven't decided that.
-Yes, Your Honour.
We do assert, that is our position,
that he is indeed a person and he is entitled then
to a common law writ of habeas corpus.
-Now, usually writs of habeas corpus involve adult human beings.
But there are many cases that have involved children.
For example, slave children in Massachusetts.
But there are no writs of habeas corpus at least in this state
that have involved nonhumans. Do you agree with that?
I do agree with that. This is a novel case in...in that way.
-Even you in your brief,
when you talk about individual rights,
you talk about the fact that along with those individual rights come responsibilities.
And you don't want us to foist any responsibilities upon this chimpanzee,
you just want us to determine that he has the opportunity to be free of this confinement.
The better way to view Tommy would be...
similar to a human child who has...who has rights,
you can't put a little child in a cage,
but doesn't have correlative responsibilities.
Mr Wise, if I may? Yes, Your Honour.
Corporations have been treated as legal persons
in a different context.
Citizens United, for example, is one case.
Can you give any example anywhere where, in a habeas corpus context,
the word "person" has been attributed to a nonhuman being?
A person is not synonymous with a human being.
A person means it's someone that the civil law now says counts,
they're no longer invisible to the civil law.
So we cited other common law countries.
An Indian court finds
that the holy books of the Sikh religion are persons.
And, in 2012, there was a treaty
between the indigenous peoples of New Zealand and the Crown
that designated a river as a legal person.
So a legal person is a legal concept,
it is not a biological concept,
which was the teaching of the Court of Appeals in Bern.
We know that from your brief.
Did you ask the owners whether they would just agree to allow you
to take custody of Tommy and place him in the preserve?
-And if preserve's the wrong word, I apologise.
We even said that we would drop this case
if the respondent agreed to move him to a sanctuary.
And only when we learned he didn't do that
and he was going to move him to someplace that was just about as bad as where he is now,
then we started the preliminary injunction which this court allowed.
So, can we safely assume that the role of this proceeding
-is to promote the wellbeing of the chimpanzee?
There's only one goal for the proceeding,
cos it's a common law habeas corpus proceeding
to discharge the chimpanzee if it's not unlawful.
So are you saying that you're not interested
in promoting the chimpanzee's wellbeing?
That is not the purpose of our suit.
Well, then maybe then the key here is a legislative lobbying activity
to ensure that the statutes are changed.
That is one option,
but the courts and the legislatures are co-equal branches here.
-Yes, we're well aware of that.
-I'm sure you are.
This...this reminds me, for example,
of the arguments that were brought up
in the famous Somerset versus Stewart case,
which is part of New York common law,
where a slave was made free
and Lord Mansfield understood that he had a judicial duty,
as this court does have a judicial duty to change the common law.
I have to tell you, I keep having a difficult time
with your using slavery as an analogy to this situation.
-I just have to tell you that.
-Let me suggest this -
that by referring to human slavery,
-we are in no way comparing Tommy to any...
But my suggestion is you move in a different direction
-for the next two minutes.
The abilities of self-determination and autonomy
are supreme values within the common law.
And these are also the same values
that the writ of habeas corpus was constructed over the centuries to protect.
And we ask this court to not necessarily find that Tommy is a person,
but assuming, as Lord Mansfield did,
without deciding that Tommy could be a person,
remanding to the court with an order to show cause and then proceed in accordance with Article 70.
-Thank you, Counsel.
-Thank you, Your Honours.
We were exceedingly happy with the way the oral argument went.
We thought the judges had clearly read the brief,
were familiar with our record.
They asked really intelligent, probing questions.
-You compared Tommy's condition to slavery -
-tell me why that is.
-Well, Tommy is a legal thing right now.
And while the courts sometimes don't like us
to compare the thinghood of Tommy with the thinghood of a human slave,
we apologise and say the only reason we do that
is because Tommy has a right to get out
of being held for his entire life in solitary confinement in a cage.
Chimpanzees should have the sort of rights
that go along with the sort of being that they are.
They clearly are never going to be able to vote,
they're never going to be able to marry.
I think a rule of thumb would be,
the sort of rights that, say, a human five-year-old should have.
Where do you draw the line?
Could you ever imagine a day when it's regarded as illegal
to kill and eat a cow, for example,
because that cow is a sentient animal?
I can imagine almost anything,
but I don't know whether that day will come and if so, you know, when.
It'll be probably my great-great-great grandchildren.
Do you regard yourself as making step number one towards that?
We are intentionally making it step one.
Please welcome Steven Wise!
This case is just the beginning.
Then my dog can sue to get on my couch.
I didn't say your dog, I said your chimpanzee.
-What do you have against my dog?
I'll give you my card, you give the card to your dog.
Listen, if Tommy wants to have rights...
If Tommy wants to have rights as a person,
-he should form his own corporation.
-Thank you so much.
-What time is it now?
I...I still think that the fact that it has taken them eight weeks -
correct? - this is eight weeks?
It's a long time. They have to come up with something better than, "This is something for the legislature."
-I think that they are going to have a discussion of personhood.
-I really do.
-I hope so.
I think they will.
-Oh, here we go.
-Is it there?
-Yep, it's here.
-I'm shaking. I'm, like, actually shaking.
"The subject of this litigation is a chimpanzee known as Tommy
"that is presently being kept
"in the city of Gloversville, Fulton County.
"This appeal presents the novel question
"of whether a chimpanzee is a person entitled to the rights
-"and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus."
"Needless to say, unlike human beings,
"chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties,
"submit to societal responsibilities
"or be held legally accountable for their actions.
"In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities
"and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights..."
Oh! I never thought
-that their decision would rest on duties.
-Did we talk about this argument?
-We talked about...
-How you can have an incompetent, you can have a child,
they don't have...there's no reciprocity of duties and obligations.
-So are they saying that an infant...?
-I'm saying the implications...
-Or a handicapped person, or a person who's insane?
"To be sure, some humans are less able to bear legal duties or responsibilities than others.
"These differences do not alter our analysis,
"as it is undeniable that collectively human beings possess
"the unique ability to bear legal responsibility."
-Is that it?
-So, basically, they're ruling against Tommy because of his species.
It's a very philosophically conservative way of saying
because animals can't enter into contracts especially,
essentially you can make them slaves for their whole lives.
-Right. This is a bad, bad, bad decision.
-'In the first case of its kind,
'a New York appeals court has rejected
'an animal rights advocate's bid
'to extend legal personhood to chimpanzees.'
-'Judges in the appeal
'wrote that since chimpanzees have no legal responsibility for their actions,
'they can't be granted the same rights as people.'
-'Meanwhile, the Nonhuman Rights Project
'continues its legal challenge on behalf of Kiko,
'a 26-year-old chimp currently residing in Niagara Falls,
-Can I ask you a question?
If Kiko were to be let out of where Kiko is currently being held,
you're not asking that Kiko go out in the street,
you're saying that Kiko would still be confined, but in a sanctuary?
That is correct. Kiko would go to Save The Chimps,
which is a sanctuary with islands in a lake.
But he's still going from one confinement which is bad to another confinement which is better?
Much, much better. And his autonomy and his ability to self-determine
will be allowed to flourish in a way that it's not allowed to flourish now.
So Kiko's case was even more interesting.
What happened there is that the judges decided
that you can't use a writ of habeas corpus to move
from one place of confinement to another place
of...not entire freedom.
But we had pointed out to them that children, apprentices,
people with mental disorders,
there were a dozen or more cases
in the state of New York where, subject to writs of habeas corpus,
they weren't just thrown out on the street -
they were put under the protection of an adult.
In other words, we didn't lose because Kiko was a chimpanzee -
their holding also applies to human beings.
So while we're trying to expand the writ of habeas corpus to chimpanzees,
the court responds by cutting it back for humans.
That was not what we were trying to do.
These decisions so far, we think that both of them
were legally wrong and are kind of obviously legally wrong.
They truly don't yet grasp what we're trying to do.
And clearly there's no agreed-upon reason why we should lose.
But what we're concerned about is that these judges
were either consciously or unconsciously thinking,
"If they're not human, they're not going to have rights."
And so what they've done
is they've tried to find some other reason for us to lose.
That's a frightening thing for an advocate to feel,
that you're up against someone who either consciously or unconsciously
believes that there's nothing I can tell them that's ever going to cause them to rule in my favour.
Let me see.
-'Oh, this is the part where he's going off to school.
'She's turning her back. This is a sad scene.
'And they all kiss him and kiss him goodbye.
'Oh, honey, it's sad. I know it's a sad scene.
'Oh, hon, they're crying. They are crying on the movie.
'Oh, honey. And there's trouble. Sad trouble. Bad.
'Oh, sweetie, with the mother, yes. The sweet mother.
'The one who adopted him.
'Well, I know, it's sad.'
'These animals, they are extraordinary.
'And I feel a moral responsibility to try to allow them
'to live their lives the way I can live my life.
'And so we just refiled Hercules and Leo,
'because one of the beauties of writs of habeas corpus
'is that because they're protecting fundamental bodily liberty,
'they allow you to file again and again and again.
'And so now we're looking for judges
'who are willing to all of a sudden see our plaintiff in a different light.
'And we think that they're out there.'
-'For the first time in history,
'a judge has recognised animals as legal persons.
'New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe
'decreed two chimpanzees held in a research lab
'at Stony Brook University are covered by a writ of habeas corpus.'
-'The Nonhuman Rights Project
'has been granted a writ of habeas corpus
'requiring the State University of New York
'to defend its right to keep the primates Hercules and Leo.'
'The lawsuit was originally filed back in 2013,
'but was quickly thrown out.
'The group has been appealing ever since
'and their tireless efforts seem to have paid off.
'The animal rights group said by granting the writ,
'the judge implicitly acknowledges apes are persons.
'Clearly, she's hoping to receive preferential treatment
'when they take over.'
It's a mad house!
'A few hours ago, I opened up my e-mail
'and it said Judge Jaffe in the Supreme Court in Manhattan
'did issue the writ of habeas corpus.'
And the first.. HE LAUGHS
The first thing I did is try to remember what date it was
in case it was April Fools' Day.
I thought that maybe Liddy was tormenting me
by sending me a fake e-mail.
And even then I didn't believe her until she sent me the actual order.
So I said, "OK, I believe you, it happened."
And I started... Actually, I started crying.
And then I said, "OK, I'll let myself cry for 20 seconds
"and now we've got a lot of work to do."
More on Hercules and Leo. It's crazy.
The New York Supreme Court Justice
ordered a Stony Brook University representative to appear in court
in May to respond to the petition.
Stony Brook told us,
"Stony Brook University is unable to comment on the referenced lawsuit."
Stony Brook is freaking out for sure.
OK, now, let's see.
This could be a problem.
So, Steve, I got an e-mail from the judge
saying that we put out something
in OUR press statement that was misleading.
What do you think that was?
The recognition of personhood
because we probably should have said "may be persons".
OK. So, how are we going to do this? What are we going to say, then?
Because if the judge is peeved at all, we don't want to upset her.
And this is why we're saying, does she really know what
she has done here? Obviously she didn't.
Yesterday afternoon, Liddy got an e-mail claiming that the judge,
hadn't intended to treat Hercules and Leo as persons.
So what the judge had done was simply strike out the words
"and writ of habeas corpus" from the original order
to show cause and writ of habeas corpus.
But from a legal point of view, there was no difference.
All the Nonhuman Rights Project wants is Stony Brook
to come into court and defend their imprisonment of Hercules and Leo.
-Are you there, Liddy?
-OK, I'm checking it now.
How about their argument that Lavery
is binding upon them in New York County?
-I didn't get to that. What page?
-That's on page 13.
Let me take a look at the cases that they've cited here.
"Trial courts within this department must follow the determination
"of the Appellate Division..."
OK, that's of concern.
That would mean we would lose on Wednesday
because Judge Jaffe is going to feel bound to rule against us
simply based on what the Tommy court and the Kiko court did.
That's going to be tough to get around.
It's the 50lbs of files.
What we've been expecting is that the Attorney General's
going to be trying to throw up procedural obstacles,
roadblocks so that we never actually get to the issue of personhood.
But I think the Attorney General will be
confronted with an opponent who is very much more prepared than he is.
Good morning and welcome.
We are here for oral argument by the lawyers in this case
and only they have permission to speak.
I thus sign the order in anticipation of hearing
both sides address the procedural and substantive issues raised.
First, I want to bring to the attention of the court
that my brother was...
In Massachusetts, we call the other lawyer "brother" and "sister"
and sometimes judges don't know what I'm talking about,
so if it's all right, I'll just refer to him as "my brother".
Hearing no objection?
-No, ma'am, I do not object.
I've never had a brother.
So, without the Appellate Division decisions, Mr Wise...
Yes, we do have something to say about that.
Yes, I think you have to address it.
Aren't I bound?
My brother argues that the Lavery and Presti cases
are binding upon this court.
Now, the State versus Moore case
states that an appellate determination
is binding only if it involves
"settled principles of law and legal issues".
But the case is indeed ongoing
and we believe that it is reasonably likely
that the Court of Appeals will indeed
take further review of the Lavery case.
Thank you. We'll turn now to the issue of personhood. Mr Coulston.
Your Honour, there is simply no precedent
ANYWHERE of a nonhuman animal
receiving the kinds of rights they're talking about.
The exceptions that do exist,
to legal personhood being assigned to something that's not human,
in every instance that they've cited,
it's something that in some way relates to human interests,
whether it's a corporation, whether a ship is treated as a legal person.
We think that really is the principle
that's governing the assignment of legal personhood.
We think that's what the Lavery court said
and we think that's the law, Your Honour,
and we don't know of any exceptions otherwise
and the petitioner hasn't cited any.
OK, thank you. Mr Wise?
Your Honour, to say that no nonhuman animal
has ever been the recipient of a writ of habeas corpus, well,
until the Nonhuman Rights Project had begun filing these suits,
no-one had ever asked and the entire hearing has to be looked at
in the context of extraordinary purpose of a writ of habeas corpus.
It is the most important writ in the arsenal of writs
that are in the Anglo-Saxon heritage.
It's not called the Great Writ - capital G, capital W - for nothing
and the very purpose is to protect
autonomous and self-determining beings.
But science has shown us over the last 50 years,
especially over the last 20,
that there are more autonomous beings in this world
than just human beings.
Chimpanzees are not governed by instinct.
They are self-conscious, they have a theory of mind,
they can understand what others are thinking.
They understand that they are individuals,
that their lives mean something to them,
which is one of the reasons why imprisoning a chimpanzee
is at least as bad and maybe even worse
than imprisoning a human being
because chimpanzees who are in prison
and essentially being exploited by Stony Brook now,
that they are...
They don't even know why they're there.
These are the sort of things
that we would only do to our worst criminals amongst us
and one thing I want to make clear is that our argument is limited,
extremely limited, to the argument that Hercules and Leo,
these chimpanzees, should be persons
solely for the purpose of a common law writ of habeas corpus.
Understanding what Mr Wise refers to as the Great Writ
and what it means to us
and I think another judge of this court many years ago
referred to it as a "powerful and broad tool
"subject to expansive interpretation"
and our understanding that the law evolves
according to scientific discovery, social mores -
witness marital rights -
isn't it incumbent upon the judiciary to at least consider
whether a class of beings may be granted a right
or something short of a right under the habeas statute,
some kind of special status?
Thus why can't a chimpanzee, by virtue of the traits documented
in petitioner's exhibits, be deemed a person for the sole purposes
Mr Wise says, of permitting the writ to the very limited extent sought?
Why isn't that an appropriate use of this Great Writ?
Your Honour, what has been diminished all along
in this proceeding is how different it is, what they're actually trying
to do, how the similarities that they paint -
you can talk about 99% of DNA
and other aspects that create similarities -
but the reality is that these are fundamentally different species.
I worry about the diminishment of these rights in some way
if we expand them beyond human beings.
I also think courts are simply just not going to be equipped
to determine where this new line is going to be
for these vague categories
that, yes, they've given them some scientific heft,
but autonomy and self-determining?
This just becomes a question of where are we going.
You absolutely are opening the possible floodgates
and it is a Great Writ, but it's been a Great Writ for human beings.
I think it should stay there
and I think the ramifications are ones
that we can't always foresee and could have a dramatic effect
not only on our understanding of how important these rights are
to human beings, but in applications that could
affect our society in a negative way.
Mr Wise, how did it go?
If you define a good hearing as one in which
the judge asks a lot of questions and is clearly giving both sides
a fair and comprehensive listen, I thought it went great.
What happens now?
I believe the judge is going to take it under advisement
and, sometime in the next month or two, we should have a decision.
Steven, quick question.
How significant is the fact that this hearing today even took place?
It is highly significant
because a writ of habeas corpus hearing for a nonhuman animal
is being held in the same way it would be for a human being,
so we are now being treated
like all the other autonomous beings of this world.
So, is this a partial victory?
It's a partial victory just standing here, yes. Yes.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Is this a race down to see who gets down first?
'Judges are kind of a conservative bunch,
'they don't want to get too far ahead of the rest of society,
'but these judges don't quite realise how much society has moved.'
The boundary between human and animal intelligence
is much narrower than we thought.
Scientists who study them
say there is a lot more happening there than just play,
that their intelligence actually rivals ours.
Elephants are certainly
one of the most intelligent species in the animal kingdom.
The more we learn about elephant cognition,
the more we learn about the evolution of behaviour
and intelligence in general.
Wow, this is a hell of a story!
A recent poll finds one third of Americans thinks animals
-should have the same rights as people.
Across all demographic groups,
an increasing fraction of people support equal rights for animals.
-They say if we can do it for corporations,
then there's no reason why, essentially,
-a living being couldn't be considered a person.
Oh, my God! When we weren't looking, we moved into the mainstream!
'We are on the cusp of a tide.
'People are really interested in what we have to say
'and I think we've had a huge success already,
'in kind of elevating the idea
'that you can bring a court case like this
'and do it in a really serious way.
'It's not being treated as something strange or a weird,
'it's being treated as a regular court case.'
And the Nonhuman Rights Project
has begun to work with legal groups around the world -
in Australia, in England, in France, in Argentina -
trying to get them to do similar things in their countries,
because these same tides of liberty, freedom and equality
are rolling through those countries,
just like they're rolling through ours
and they have been for centuries.
A female orang-utan
incarcerated in an Argentinian zoo for more than 20 years
has been granted some legal rights enjoyed by humans.
The case rested on whether the court decided
the orang-utan was a person or a thing.
This isn't a static issue.
'We view our lawsuits as really a dialogue between us and the judges
'and we think that there is going to be an evolution of that dialogue.'
In fact, there already has been.
Winston Churchill gave a speech in 1942,
telling the English people it's not the end
and it's not even the beginning of the end,
but it is the end of the beginning.
And that's what I tell people our suits are about -
the end of the beginning.
CAGE DOOR CREAKS
HUBBUB OF VOICES AND FAIRGROUND MUSIC
# I see my life come shining
# From the west down to the east
# Any day now, any day now
# I shall be released. #
Documentary following animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. Steve and his legal team are making history by filing the first lawsuits that seek to transform an animal from a thing with no rights to a person with legal protections. It is an intimate look at a lawsuit that could forever transform our legal system, and one man's lifelong quest to protect 'nonhuman' animals.
Supported by affidavits from primatologists around the world, Steve maintains that, based on scientific evidence, cognitively complex animals such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and elephants have the capacity for limited personhood rights. Filing lawsuits used to free humans from unlawful imprisonment, Wise argues on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State.
The film captures a monumental shift in our culture, as the public and judicial system show increasing receptiveness to Steve's impassioned arguments.