New York Court of Appeal: No Habeas Corpus for Happy The Elephant, 2 Judges Dissent
The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that “Happy” the elephant has no human writ of habeas corpus rights that would allow her to challenge her imprisonment at the Bronx Zoo.
The 5-2 decision was written by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore with Judges Rowan Wilson and Jenny Rivera dissenting.
“Because the writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty right of human beings to be free of unlawful confinement, it has no applicability to Happy, a nonhuman animal who is not a ‘person’ subjected to illegal detention,” DiFiore wrote. “Happy, as a nonhuman animal, does not have a legally cognizable right to be at liberty under New York law.”
DiFiore said, “Granting legal personhood to a nonhuman animal in such a manner would have significant implications for the interactions of humans and animals in all facets of life, including risking the disruption of property rights, the agricultural industry (among others), and medical research efforts.”
Dissenting judges saw it differently. “The majority erroneously claims that ‘the writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty right of human beings,’ and that habeas corpus is unavailable to Happy as a matter of law because she is not a ‘person’ subjected to illegal detention,” they wrote.
Judges Wilson and Rivera noted in their dissent that habeas corpus was “vigorously used” to challenge the detention of slaves when, under law, they were “deemed chattel.”
The dissenters also noted that habeas corpus was also used to challenge the detention of women and children at a time when they “had no legal existence.”
The Nonhuman Rights Project praised the dissent of Judges Wilson and Rivera but said Happy isn’t the only loser in the legal decision against her.
“It’s also a loss for everyone who cares about upholding and strengthening our most cherished values and principles of justice — autonomy, liberty, equality, and fairness — and ensuring our legal system is free of arbitrary reasoning and that no one is denied basic rights simply because of who they are,” the group said in a statement.