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.
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.