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Judge didn’t mean to give human rights to chimps

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Previous landmark ruling was a mistake

David Silverman/Getty Images

The New York judge who yesterday appeared to give two chimpanzees legal personhood has made it clear that she did not intend to give the animals human rights. After making her first ruling earlier this week, Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe issued a revised court order on Tuesday with the writ of habeas corpus — a legal principle that allows people to contest their wrongful imprisonment — struck out.

The judge struck out the writ of habeas corpus

A spokesperson for the court told Science that Jaffe had intended to grant a hearing to discuss the issues raised by the Nonhuman Rights Project, an animal advocacy group, but had mistakenly labeled the court order as a writ of habeas corpus. The Nonhuman Rights Project has raised several cases against institutions and individuals holding chimpanzees in captivity, arguing that the animals are intelligent and emotionally complex enough to be treated legally as people. Three lower judges had thrown the cases out, but Jaffe's ruling on Monday appeared to treat two chimpanzees held by the State University of New York at Stony Brook legally as people — a stepping stone in the group's fight to free the apes and curb the detention of intelligent animals.

Both parties will now convene on May 6th to discuss the legal status of the two chimpanzees — Hercules and Leo — held by the university. Steven M. Wise, in charge of the Nonhuman Rights Project, still responded positively to the amended court order. "These cases are novel and this is the first time that an Order to Show Cause has issued," he said in a statement. "We are grateful for an opportunity to litigate the issue of the freedom of the chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, at the ordered May hearing." Stony Brook told The Wall Street Journal that it "does not comment on the specifics of litigation," and that it "awaits the court's full consideration on this matter."