By: Will Coggin
News Outlet: The Daily Journal

A New York court in Manhattan made a startling order recently that could lead to classifying two chimpanzees as “legal persons.” While animal liberation activists and lawyers celebrated the move, the order could set a damaging precedent for society as well as the idea of animal welfare.

The monkey business began when an animal-rights group called the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit against Stony Brook University because the institution uses chimpanzees for biomedical research. The Nonhuman Rights Project filed a habeas corpus petition, which asks that “detainees” be relieved from “unlawful imprisonment.”This lawsuit is a perfect illustration of how radical the animal-rights movement has become. Even in cases where animals are being used for studies that could potentially yield scientific benefits for humans, the animal-rights fringe is fighting tooth and nail against it. The petition supports the agenda of PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, who has previously stated, “even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS, we’d be against it.”

Extreme activist groups, such as the Nonhuman Rights Project and PETA, view the establishment of animal “rights” in the legal system as necessary in order to achieve their ultimate goal of animal liberation, which would abolish zoos, aquariums, farms, and medical research on animals nationwide.

These activists generally can’t win fights on the merits of animal welfare. Consider circus elephants. Their welfare is ensured under the federal Animal Welfare Act and enforced by USDA inspectors. The inspections are public record. But animal liberation activists reject the idea that animals should be in circuses—even if the elephants were given a private masseuse, flat screen TV’s and 1,000-thread-count bedsheets.

The activists had their day in court and lost on animal welfare grounds. They sued over a circus’ supposed harassment of elephants. Not only was their suit thrown out of court, but it was uncovered that the activists were secretly paying their key witness, who was found to have lied under oath. A law firm representing the animal-rights groups was sanctioned by the court, while the circus countersued for racketeering and won a $25 million settlement from the Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, and others.

Now activists have their own show to circumvent animal welfare: giving animals legal “personhood” status and allowing activists to file suits on their behalf.

In 2012, PETA filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld claiming that whales were being held as “slaves” and in violation of the 13th Amendment. While the lawsuit was swiftly thrown out because Constitutional rights only apply to humans, if PETA ever succeeded in establishing “standing” in court for animals, that would mean animals could sue humans. Since a fish or a cow can’t file the paperwork on its own, the animal would need a representative to speak on its behalf. PETA and other animal-rights lawyers would happily take the case to put farms out of business.

We have witnessed animals in the courtroom before. In Zurich, government-appointed “animal lawyers” have been representing “clients” since the 1990s. In one instance, a Swiss fisherman was forced to stand trial after it took him too long (10 minutes) to reel in a pike. The same Swiss animal lawyer also “represented” a fish in a lawsuit against a gameshow, alleging the animal was not treated with dignity. The Swiss have since grown weary of the frivolous proceedings that their animal lawyers produce, and in 2010, voted down a referendum that would have expanded the use of animal lawyers throughout the country.

We should hope we never have this experience here. Giving legal rights to animals is not necessary to ensure their welfare. What legal rights would do is open the door to a flood of lawsuits of activists with law degrees who speak for an ideology, not animals. In short, it’d be a kangaroo court.

Will Coggin is the director of research at the Center for Consumer Freedom.