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A Fireside Chat with Hon. Rowan D. Wilson, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals

October 25, 2023, 6:00 pm7:15 pm EDT


Join us at New York University School of Law for a fireside chat with the Honorable Rowan D. Wilson, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, which will feature a discussion of Nonhuman Rights Project, ex rel. Happy v. Breheny, a historic case that challenged the boundaries of nonhuman animal rights.

Before his appointment to Chief Judge in 2023, Judge Wilson served as an Associate Judge on the Court of Appeals, during which time the Court heard Nonhuman Rights Project, ex rel. Happy v. Breheny. The case concerned the question of whether Happy—an elephant that has lived in captivity at the Bronx Zoo for over 40 years—should be extended the right of habeas corpus, which entitles a person to a judicial determination on the lawfulness of their detention. The case marked the first time that the highest court of any English-speaking jurisdiction examined such a question.

While a majority of the Court ultimately rejected the argument that habeas corpus should be extended to nonhuman animals, two judges—including Judge Wilson—issued landmark dissenting opinions.


Katrina Wyman, Faculty Director, Guarini Center; Wilf Family Professor of Property Law, NYU School of Law

Whether an elephant (or other animal) is a ‘person’ is not relevant to determining whether the writ of habeas corpus can be used to challenge a confinement. All can agree that an elephant is not a member of the homo sapiens species. At the same time, an elephant is not a desk chair or an earthworm; the majority … offers that animals are not “the equivalent of ‘things’ or ‘objects’” … So the correct question becomes: given what we know about the qualities an elephant has—and in particular, the qualities Happy has—should the law afford her certain rights through habeas corpus? —Honorable Rowan D. Wilson


This event has been approved for 1 New York State CLE credits in the category of Areas of Professional Practice. The credit is both transitional and non-transitional; it is appropriate for both experienced and newly admitted attorneys.


NYU School of Law is an accredited provider of CLE in New York State. If you are seeking CLE credit for a different state, we recommend you consult with your state’s CLE Board to ascertain regulations on reciprocity.


This event is open to the general public. Advance registration is required for all attendees. Non-NYU visitors must be prepared to show security a valid government-issued photo ID for entry into the building.

Reception to follow.


October 25, 2023
6:00 pm – 7:15 pm EDT


Guarini Center on Environmental, Energy and Land Use Law


NYU School of Law, Vanderbilt Hall, Faculty Library
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012 United States
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