I'd like to have you look at this pencil. It's a thing. It's a legal thing. And so are books you might have or the cars you own. They're all legal things. The great apes that you'll see behind me, they too are legal things.
Now, I can do that to a legal thing. I can do whatever I want to my book or my car. These great apes, you'll see. The photographs are taken by a man named James Mollison who wrote a book called "James & Other Apes." And he tells in his book how every single one them, almost every one of them, is an orphan who saw his mother and father die before his eyes. They're legal things.
So for centuries, there's been a great legal wall that separates legal things from legal persons. On one hand, legal things are invisible to judges. They don't count in law. They don't have any legal rights. They don't have the capacity for legal rights. They are the slaves. On the other side of that legal wall are the legal persons. Legal persons are very visible to judges. They count in law. They may have many rights. They have the capacity for an infinite number of rights. And they're the masters. Right now, all nonhuman animals are legal things. All human beings are legal persons.
But being human and being a legal person has never been, and is not today, synonymous with a legal person. Humans and legal persons are not synonymous. On the one side, there have been many human beings over the centuries who have been legal things. Slaves were legal things. Women, children, were sometimes legal things. Indeed, a great deal of civil rights struggle over the last centuries has been to punch a hole through that wall and begin to feed these human things through the wall and have them become legal persons.
But alas, that hole has closed up. Now, on the other side are legal persons, but they've never only been limited to human beings. There are, for example, there are many legal persons who are not even alive. In the United States, we're aware of the fact that corporations are legal persons. In pre—independence India, a court held that a Hindu idol was a legal person, that a mosque was a legal person. In 2000, the Indian Supreme Court held that the holy books of the Sikh religion was a legal person, and in 2012, just recently, there was a treaty between the indigenous peoples of New Zealand and the crown, in which it was agreed that a river was a legal person who owned its own riverbed.
Now, I read Peter Singer's book in 1980, when I had a full head of lush, brown hair, and indeed I was moved by it, because I had become a lawyer because I wanted to speak for the voiceless, defend the defenseless, and I'd never realized how voiceless and defenseless the trillions, billions of nonhuman animals are. And I began to work as an animal protection lawyer. And by 1985, I realized that I was trying to accomplish something that was literally impossible, the reason being that all of my clients, all the animals whose interests I was trying to defend, were legal things; they were invisible. It was not going to work, so I decided that the only thing that was going to work was they had, at least some of them, had to also be moved through a hole that we could open up again in that wall and begin feeding the appropriate nonhuman animals through that hole onto the other side of being legal persons.
Now, at that time, there was very little known about or spoken about truly animal rights, about the idea of having legal personhood or legal rights for a nonhuman animal, and I knew it was going to take a long time. And so, in 1985, I figured that it would take about 30 years before we'd be able to even begin a strategic litigation, long—term campaign, in order to be able to punch another hole through that wall. It turned out that I was pessimistic, that it only took 28.
So what we had to do in order to begin was not only to write law review articles and teach classes, write books, but we had to then begin to get down to the nuts and bolts of how you litigate that kind of case.
So one of the first things we needed to do was figure out what a cause of action was, a legal cause of action. And a legal cause of action is a vehicle that lawyers use to put their arguments in front of courts.
It turns out there's a very interesting case that had occurred almost 250 years ago in London called Somerset vs. Stewart, whereby a black slave had used the legal system and had moved from a legal thing to a legal person. I was so interested in it that I eventually wrote an entire book about it.
James Somerset was an eight—year—old boy when he was kidnapped from West Africa. He survived the Middle Passage, and he was sold to a Scottish businessman named Charles Stewart in Virginia. Now, 20 years later, Stewart brought James Somerset to London, and after he got there, James decided he was going to escape. And so one of the first things he did was to get himself baptized, because he wanted to get a set of godparents, because to an 18th—century slave, they knew that one of the major responsibilities of godfathers was to help you escape.
And so in the fall of 1771, James Somerset had a confrontation with Charles Stewart. We don't know exactly what happened, but then James dropped out of sight. An enraged Charles Stewart then hired slave catchers to canvass the city of London, find him, bring him not back to Charles Stewart, but to a ship, the Ann and Mary, that was floating in London Harbour, and he was chained to the deck, and the ship was to set sail for Jamaica where James was to be sold in the slave markets and be doomed to the three to five years of life that a slave had harvesting sugar cane in Jamaica. Well now James' godparents swung into action. They approached the most powerful judge, Lord Mansfield, who was chief judge of the court of King's Bench, and they demanded that he issue a common law writ of habeus corpus on behalf of James Somerset.
Now, the common law is the kind of law that English—speaking judges can make when they're not cabined in by statutes or constitutions, and a writ of habeus corpus is called the Great Writ, capital G, capital W, and it's meant to protect any of us who are detained against our will. A writ of habeus corpus is issued. The detainer is required to bring the detainee in and give a legally sufficient reason for depriving him of his bodily liberty.
Well, Lord Mansfield had to make a decision right off the bat, because if James Somerset was a legal thing, he was not eligible for a writ of habeus corpus, only if he could be a legal person. So Lord Mansfield decided that he would assume, without deciding, that James Somerset was indeed a legal person, and he issued the writ of habeus corpus, and James's body was brought in by the captain of the ship.
There were a series of hearings over the next six months. On June 22, 1772, Lord Mansfield said that slavery was so odious, and he used the word "odious," that the common law would not support it, and he ordered James free. At that moment, James Somerset underwent a legal transubstantiation. The free man who walked out of the courtroom looked exactly like the slave who had walked in, but as far as the law was concerned, they had nothing whatsoever in common.
The next thing we did is that the Nonhuman Rights Project, which I founded, then began to look at what kind of values and principles do we want to put before the judges? What values and principles did they imbibe with their mother's milk, were they taught in law school, do they use every day, do they believe with all their hearts—and we chose liberty and equality.
Now, liberty right is the kind of right to which you're entitled because of how you're put together, and a fundamental liberty right protects a fundamental interest. And the supreme interest in the common law are the rights to autonomy and self—determination. So they are so powerful that in a common law country, if you go to a hospital and you refuse life—saving medical treatment, a judge will not order it forced upon you, because they will respect your self—determination and your autonomy.
Now, an equality right is the kind of right to which you're entitled because you resemble someone else in a relevant way, and there's the rub, relevant way. So if you are that, then because they have the right, you're like them, you're entitled to the right. Now, courts and legislatures draw lines all the time. Some are included, some are excluded. But you have to, at the bare minimum you must —that line has to be a reasonable means to a legitimate end. The Nonhuman Rights Project argues that drawing a line in order to enslave an autonomous and self—determining being like you're seeing behind me, that that's a violation of equality.
We then searched through 80 jurisdictions, it took us seven years, to find the jurisdiction where we wanted to begin filing our first suit. We chose the state of New York. Then we decided upon who our plaintiffs are going to be. We decided upon chimpanzees, not just because Jane Goodall was on our board of directors, but because they, Jane and others, have studied chimpanzees intensively for decades. We know the extraordinary cognitive capabilities that they have, and they also resemble the kind that human beings have. And so we chose chimpanzees, and we began to then canvass the world to find the experts in chimpanzee cognition. We found them in Japan, Sweden, Germany, Scotland, England and the United States, and amongst them, they wrote 100 pages of affidavits in which they set out more than 40 ways in which their complex cognitive capability, either individually or together, all added up to autonomy and self—determination.
Now, these included, for example, that they were conscious. But they're also conscious that they're conscious. They know they have a mind. They know that others have minds. They know they're individuals, and that they can live. They understand that they lived yesterday and they will live tomorrow. They engage in mental time travel. They remember what happened yesterday. They can anticipate tomorrow, which is why it's so terrible to imprison a chimpanzee, especially alone. It's the thing that we do to our worst criminals, and we do that to chimpanzees without even thinking about it.
They have some kind of moral capacity. When they play economic games with human beings, they'll spontaneously make fair offers, even when they're not required to do so. They are numerate. They understand numbers. They can do some simple math. They can engage in language —or to stay out of the language wars, they're involved in intentional and referential communication in which they pay attention to the attitudes of those with whom they are speaking. They have culture. They have a material culture, a social culture. They have a symbolic culture. Scientists in the Taï Forests in the Ivory Coast found chimpanzees who were using these rocks to smash open the incredibly hard hulls of nuts. It takes a long time to learn how to do that, and they excavated the area and they found that this material culture, this way of doing it, these rocks, had passed down for at least 4,300 years through 225 chimpanzee generations.
So now we needed to find our chimpanzee. Our chimpanzee, first we found two of them in the state of New York. Both of them would die before we could even get our suits filed. Then we found Tommy. Tommy is a chimpanzee. You see him behind me. Tommy was a chimpanzee. We found him in that cage. We found him in a small room that was filled with cages in a larger warehouse structure on a used trailer lot in central New York. We found Kiko, who is partially deaf. Kiko was in the back of a cement storefront in western Massachusetts. And we found Hercules and Leo. They're two young male chimpanzees who are being used for biomedical, anatomical research at Stony Brook. We found them.
And so on the last week of December 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed three suits all across the state of New York using the same common law writ of habeus corpus argument that had been used with James Somerset, and we demanded that the judges issue these common law writs of habeus corpus. We wanted the chimpanzees out, and we wanted them brought to Save the Chimps, a tremendous chimpanzee sanctuary in South Florida which involves an artificial lake with 12 or 13 islands—there are two or three acres where two dozen chimpanzees live on each of them. And these chimpanzees would then live the life of a chimpanzee, with other chimpanzees in an environment that was as close to Africa as possible.
Now, all these cases are still going on. We have not yet run into our Lord Mansfield. We shall. We shall. This is a long—term strategic litigation campaign. We shall. And to quote Winston Churchill, the way we view our cases is that they're not the end, they're not even the beginning of the end, but they are perhaps the end of the beginning.