Elephant Habeas: San Francisco Judge Sends Case To Fresno

Well that didn’t take long! As predicted, a San Francisco judge has rejected an effort by the Nonhuman Rights Project, a group with no apparent connection with San Francisco, to seek habeas corpus for three elephants, who also have no apparent connection with San Francisco. The case will (barring an appeal, which I’m sorry to say is pretty likely) now be heard in the place where the elephants are kept.

The judge’s decision illustrates an absurdity of the petition. Under California procedural law, a habeas corpus petition can be transferred to the county where the “prisoner” is being kept if it is a challenge to the conditions of his confinement. The Nonhuman Rights Project argued that it was not challenging “the conditions of [the elephants’] imprisonment. Rather, it challenges the legality of the elephants’ imprisonment itself and seeks their discharge from the Fresno Zoo.” But the judge saw that that was baloney. The whole case is about the conditions of the elephants’ confinement. And the NhRP isn’t seeking the elephants’ “discharge” so they can roam free through the Golden State. It’s seeking an order allowing the NhRP to imprison the elephants in a place of its choosing.

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