Renowned author and journalist Charles Siebert writes about the Nonhuman Rights Project for this week’s cover story in the New York Times Magazine.
Siebert accompanies attorney Steven Wise as he drives to the used trailer lot where Tommy the chimpanzee is being held in a dark shed. He attends the many meetings where the legal team is preparing the lawsuits on behalf of Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo. And in December 2013 he follows Wise as those first, groundbreaking cases go to court in New York State.
“I couldn’t believe I was finally about to argue this case before a judge,” [Wise] told me later. “I really got choked up for a moment.”
Siebert later talks with Justice Joseph M. Sise, who heard Tommy’s case:
I managed to get hold of Sise on the phone a few weeks later and asked him about his ruling.
“I thought they should have an opportunity to make their argument as to why Article 70 should be enlarged to include nonhumans,” Sise said. “Ultimately, I felt that they had the right to make a record so that they could appeal. I thought, Here’s this group of lawyers, living and dying this, they deserve due process, and they deserve to be told just how impressed at least I was by the effort they’re making on behalf of animals.”
Wise tells Siebert about his early days as a rock singer, a social activist and a lab technician before entering the field of law and taking up the cause of nonhuman animals. (“If I’m interested in social justice, I can’t imagine beings who are being more brutalized than nonhuman animals.”)
He talks about one of his earliest efforts, on behalf of a dolphin named Kama, and how “The lawyer for the aquarium was so outraged, he kept saying, ‘Judge, our own dolphin is suing us!'”. The judge threw the case out due to insufficient “standing”, and Wise then came to see how the writ of habeas corpus would be the best approach to filing suits seeking recognition of nonhuman animals as having legal rights.
“A systematic assault against the increasingly arbitrary distinction of species as the determinant of who should hold a right.”Siebert describes the NhRP’s legal efforts as a “systematic assault [against] what Wise considers the increasingly arbitrary distinction of species as the determinant of who should hold a right.”
Siebert is the author of many other stories for the NYT magazine, including “Watching Whales Watching Us“, “An Elephant Crackup“, “The Animal Cruelty Syndrome” and “Planet of the Retired Apes” – as well as for many other magazines. One of his books, The Wauchula Woods Accord – Toward a New Understanding of Animals, describes the time he spent at the Center for Great Apes, a sanctuary for former ape movie stars and circus entertainers.
Here at Earth in Transition, we’ve been working with the Nonhuman Rights Project for several years. Many thanks to Charles Siebert for his remarkable article here and in the print edition of the New York Times on Sunday.