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  • 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