By Richard Berman

Outlet: Washington Times

“People are animals, too,” goes the refrain from animal rights activists trying to morally equate people and animals. “Animals are people, too,” is what their lawyers now argue.

A new HBO documentary shines a light on an issue that most of us would take as seriously as Pee Wee Herman: giving legal rights to animals. Titled “Unlocking the Cage,” the film follows around animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his long-standing quest to gain legal “personhood” for animals.

Don’t laugh it off so quickly.

For decades, animal rights activists have sought to gain legal “personhood” for animals. Recently, they’ve argued that if corporations can have personhood, so can animals. (Even though corporations, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, are simply groups of humans.) But the arguments supporting it extend back decades.

Take former Obama White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein. In a 2004 book, Mr. Sunstein advocated creating a private right of action under animal cruelty laws, and then argued for going even further: “I will suggest that animals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives, to prevent violations of current law.”

Slobbering at the prospect of legal “personhood” for animals are groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Consider that the number of “animal law” programs in law schools has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2001 there were only nine animal law classes offered in the United States. Today there are more than 150 schools offering these classes, and over 200 chapters of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund.

There’s a veritable army of these animal lawyers; HSUS has dozens on staff and receives plenty of pro bono help from allies. But these legal sharks are constrained to often suing around the edges and trying to get creative in applying existing laws, such as threatening to sue farms under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

This may be a hassle for farms that have to lawyer up, but targets of animal rights lawyers can fight back. In one instance, the owner of Ringling Bros. discovered that animal rights activists had secretively paid a witness who lied in court in a lawsuit against Ringling. The company countersued under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and won $25 million from animal groups, including HSUS. (Similarly, the paper company aptly named Resolute is now suing Greenpeace under RICO after years of harassment.)

Personhood would change everything and tip the scales in favor of the activists. Agenda-driven lawyers at PETA or HSUS would bring suit and claim to “represent” the animals’ interests. They would demand animals be freed from zoos, aquariums, farms and circuses. You could kiss the Kentucky Derby goodbye, along with pet ownership.

PETA filed a lawsuit in 2013 arguing that killer whales were unlawfully “enslaved” under the 13th Amendment. It was quickly dismissed. Mr. Wise is trying to get habeas corpus applied to chimpanzees under common law, arguing that they’re cognitive enough to be considered legal persons. He’s filing in what he sees are friendly jurisdictions, hoping to get the right judge.

Will it work? It shouldn’t. But since when has the law foiled an activist judge?

It won’t stop with chimps. Once the camel’s nose is under the tent — so to speak — it’ll expand to dolphins, fish, chickens, cows, dogs and other animals.

The current legal system protects human rights and animal welfare, but allows humans to use animals for food. To animal activists, that’s “species-ist.” (Really, that’s a word they use.) So they have the mentality of if you don’t like the game, change the rules.

Legal rights for animals? When pigs fly, most people would say. But in reality, it only takes one bad judge to allow animal rights activists to go ape on businesses.