By: Ira Kasdan, Bret Sparks – Kelley Drye – Animal Law
August 19, 2021
Earlier this year, the Nonhuman Rights Project (“NRP”) filed an appeal to New York’s highest court, arguing for the release of Happy the Elephant from the Bronx Zoo. The basis of NRP’s case, which was rejected by both the New York Supreme Court and the New York Appellate Division—First Department, is that Happy is being kept by the zoo “against her will.” In its brief, NRP requested that the Court of Appeals liberate Happy under a legal right known as habeas corpus, which historically has been used to grant freedom to people who truly were unlawfully incarcerated, such as slaves and illegally detained prisoners.
This is not NRP’s first attempt to misemploy one of the most sacred and fundamental human rights in our legal system. In 2018, the group sought (and was denied) a writ of habeas corpus for two chimpanzees in New York. It more recently lost a similar case on behalf of elephants in Connecticut. NRP has also publicly stated that it envisions more lawsuits in the future, with hopes of “freeing” a wide variety of animals. Should NRP succeed on its latest appeal, habeas corpus could be invoked for all animals that activist groups believe are being “kept against their will,” including livestock and household pets.
Beyond its degradation of habeas corpus,