Bet you woke up this morning feeling all smug about being a “person,”with “rights” just like any other Tom, Dick or duly incorporated S Corp. Well too bad, sucker, because chimps have rights now too.

A Manhattan Supreme Court judge made the ruling—the first of its kind in America—on Monday, holding that two chimpanzees living at a university medical lab qualify as “legal persons” for the purpose of a habeas corpus writ.

Habeas corpus petitions—essentially hearings to determine whether or not an imprisonment is lawful—can only be brought on behalf of persons and not—a critical distinction—on behalf of things. By issuing the order to show cause, the judge essentially reclassified chimps as persons within the legal definition.

Is it the worst idea, though? Eh. The line of cases so far aren’t trying to set the wild animals free (an issue already plaguing the New York metropolitan area)—just to regulate the care of arguably self-aware species. It’s a moral argument, and not an unpopular one.

Although similar petitions were overturned last year, the new ruling would also potentially open the door to legal protection for other smart-ass animals like elephants, dolphins, and whales.

Now the school—Stony Brook University in Long Island—will have to file papers with the court arguing that keeping the chimps in their medical lab is lawful.

Attorneys from the Non Human Rights Project representing the chimps say they’d like to see them moved to a sanctuary in Florida. Arguments in the case are expected to continue in May.

[h/t Buzzfeed, image via AP]


Correction, 04/21, 8:18 a.m.: This post has been updated to reflect that chimpanzees are not monkeys. Contact the author at gabrielle@gawker.com.