Legislative Action Center

In the Courts: Group’s Effort to Get Rights for Animals Results in Another Failure
June 16, 2022 by Government Relations


Earlier this week, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, rejected the latest attempt of an animal rights group to secure legal rights for animals.  In the case, the group, the Nonhuman Rights Project, sought to employ the use of the common law writ of habeas corpus to get the release of an elephant from the Bronx Zoo. 

A writ of habeas corpus is a special court order that directs a public official to deliver an imprisoned individual to a court and demonstrate a valid reason for the person’s confinement. 

The New York high court did not agree with the group’s claim that the elephant should benefit from habeas corpus.  The Court’s opinion noted that, “no court of this State--or any other--has ever held the writ applicable to a nonhuman animal.  Nothing in our precedent or, in fact, that of any other state or federal court, provides support for the notion that the writ of habeas corpus is or should be applicable to nonhuman animals…. The great writ protects the right to liberty of humans because they are humans with certain fundamental liberty rights recognized by law.  Nonhuman animals are not, and never have been, considered “persons” with a right to “liberty” under New York law.” 

The Court did not stop there.  While holding that, “The use of habeas corpus as a vehicle to extend legal personhood beyond living humans is not a matter for the courts.”, it also pointed out that:

  1. Animals cannot be held legally accountable or required to fulfill obligations imposed by law. 
  2. The legal recognition of corporations and partnerships as legal “persons” are simply legal constructs though which human beings act, so any comparison between the recognition offered those business entities and the advocacy for animal rights is not supported. 
  3. The Nonhuman Rights Project’s application for the writ, if granted, would, “call into question the very premises underlying pet ownership, the use of service animals, and the enlistment of animals in other forms of work.”

The Court also pointed out the group’s track record of commencing, “myriad proceedings in New York and other states on behalf of chimpanzees and elephants, arguing that these nonhuman animals are legal “persons” being unlawfully confined and, as such, they are entitled to the remedy of habeas corpus”, and that all of their attempts have been unsuccessful. 

The case citation is In re Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Breheny, No. 52 (N.Y. June 14, 2022)

The American Kennel Club (AKC) considers that animal rights is a radical philosophy that posits that humans should not use or own animals in any way, even as companions, and seeks to ultimately make that grim agenda a reality.  For animal rights groups, the ultimate goal is not to improve the wellbeing of animals, but to stop purposeful breeding of animals by humans and  human interaction with animals.  AKC supports public laws and policies based on animal welfare principles, which are pro-animal ownership.  Animal welfare recognizes the human-animal bond and the value of quality animal care and purposeful breeding; and supports advancing science to ensure the health and wellbeing of animals.  To learn more about this issue, go to the Legal Status of Animals page on AKC’s Legislative Action Center


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