Steven M. Wise (born 1952) is an American legal scholar who specializes in animal protection issues, primatology, and animal intelligence. He teaches animal rights law at Harvard Law School, Vermont Law School, John Marshall Law School, Lewis & Clark Law School, and Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. He is a former president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project. The Yale Law Journal has called him "one of the pistons of the animal rights movement."
Wise is the author of An American Trilogy (2009), in which he tells the story of how a piece of land in Tar Heel, North Carolina, was first the home of Native Americans until they were driven into near-extinction, then a slave plantation, and finally the site of factory hog farms and the world's largest slaughterhouse. Though the Heavens May Fall (2005), recounts the 1772 trial in England of James Somersett, a black man rescued from a ship heading for the West Indies slave markets, which gave impetus to the movement to abolish slavery in Britain and the United States (see Somersett's Case). Drawing the Line (2002), which describes the relative intelligence of animals and human beings. And Rattling the Cage (2000), in which he argues that certain basic legal rights should be extended to chimpanzees and bonobos.
Wise received his undergraduate education in chemistry at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Wise first became interested in politics through his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement while at William & Mary. Wise studied law at Boston University and was awarded his J.D. there in 1976, then became a personal injury lawyer. He was inspired to move into the area of animal rights after reading Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (1975), often referred to as 'the bible of the animal liberation movement'. A practicing animal protection attorney, he is president of the nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project, where he directs its Nonhuman Rights Project, the purpose of which is to obtain basic common law rights for at least some nonhuman animals. He lives in Coral Springs, Florida, with his son named Chris Wise and his daughter Siena.
Wise's position on animal rights is that some animals, particularly primates, meet the criteria of legal personhood, and should therefore be awarded certain rights and protections. His criteria for personhood are that the animal must be able to desire things, to act in an intentional manner to acquire those things, and must have a sense of self i.e. the animals must know that s/he exists. Wise argues that chimpanzees, bonobos, elephants, parrots, dolphins, orangutans, and gorillas meet these criteria.
Wise argues that these animals should have legal personhood bestowed upon them to protect them from "serious infringements upon their bodily integrity and bodily liberty." Without personhood in law, he writes, one is "invisible to civil law" and "might as well be dead."
He writes in "The Problem with Being a Thing" in Rattling the Cage:
|“||For four thousand years, a thick and impenetrable legal wall has separated all human from all nonhuman animals. On one side, even the most trivial interests of a single species — ours — are jealously guarded. We have assigned ourselves, alone among the million animal species, the status of "legal persons." On the other side of that wall lies the legal refuse of an entire kingdom, not just chimpanzees and bonobos but also gorillas, orangutans, and monkeys, dogs, elephants, and dolphins. They are "legal things." Their most basic and fundamental interests — their pains, their lives, their freedoms — are intentionally ignored, often maliciously trampled, and routinely abused. Ancient philosophers claimed that all nonhuman animals had been designed and placed on this earth just for human beings. Ancient jurists declared that law had been created just for human beings. Although philosophy and science have long since recanted, the law has not.||”|
In Rattling the Cage, Wise offers examples of primates who he believes have suffered unjustifiably. He writes about Jerom, a chimpanzee who lived alone in a small cage in the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center, with no access to sunlight, after being infected with one strain of HIV when he was three, another at the age of four, and a third at the age of five, before dying in 1996 at the age of 14.
Wise also tells the story of Lucy Temerlin, a six-year-old chimpanzee who learned American Sign Language from Roger Fouts, the primatologist, and was raised by Maurice K. Temerlin and Temerlin Mcclain. Fouts would arrive at Lucy's home at 8:30 every morning, when Lucy would greet him with a hug, go to the stove, take the kettle, fill it with water from the sink, find two cups and tea bags from the cupboard, and brew and serve the tea. When she was 12, the Temerlins were no longer able to care for her. She was sent to a chimpanzee rehabilitation center in Senegal, then flown to Gambia, where she was shot and skinned by a poacher, and her feet and hands hacked off for sale as trophies.
Wise has been profiled in Who's Who in the World as well as other editions of Who's Who since 2005. He is a frequent guest on a wide variety of television and radio news and talk shows throughout Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and North America.
Wise speaks frequently on topics related to animal rights law at law schools, legal conferences, and universities throughout North and South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa including Harvard Law School, Monash University Law School, Australia, and the University of Stellenbosch among others.
He has taught Animal Rights Law or Animal Rights Jurisprudence at the Harvard, Vermont, Lewis and Clark, University of Miami, St. Thomas, and John Marshall Law Schools.
Wise has written four books.
- Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals, Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA, 2000 (called a "seminal work" by the Boston Globe (March 3, 2005); Time magazine observed "(o)nce the domain of activists, animal law has steadily gained respect among law schools and legal scholars since 2000, when … Rattling the Cage provided an academic argument for granting legal rights to animals" (December 13, 2004)) .
- Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, MA, 2002.
- Though the Heavens May Fall, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005(cover review for Sunday New York Times Book Review, January 9, 2005).
- An American Trilogy: Death, Slavery and Dominion Along the Banks of the Cape Fear River, Da Capo Press, 2009.
- "Animal law and animal sacrifice: Analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Santaria animal sacrifice in Hialeah," in A Communion Of Subjects – Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics (Paul Waldau and Kimberly Patton, eds. Columbia University Press 2006)
- "Entitling Nonhuman Animals to Fundamental Legal Rights on the Basis of Practical Autonomy," in Animals, Ethics, and Trade (Earthscan 2006)
- "Resources on Animals and the Law," in Animals Are the Issue – Library Resources on Animal Issues (John M. Kistler, ed., Haworth Press 2004)
- "Animal Rights, One Step at a Time,"in Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions (Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum, eds., Oxford University Press 2004)
- "Untitled," The State of the Animals II (Humane Society of the United States, 2003)
- "A Great Shout – Breaking the Barriers to Legal Rights for Great Apes," in Great Apes and Humans – The Ethics of Coexistence (Smithsonian Press, 2001), reprinted in Animal Law (Clare Palmer, ed. The International Library on Rights, Ashgate Publishing, forthcoming 2008), and in The Animal Ethics Reader (Susan J. Armstrong and Richard G. Boltzler, eds. Routledge 2003)
Law review articles
- "The Writ De Homine Replegiando: A Common Law Path to Nonhuman Animal Rights" (with Blake M. Mills) 25 George Mason University C.R. Law Journal 159 (2015)
- "Nonhuman Rights to Personhood" text of the Dyson Lecture published in the Pace Environmental Law Review Vol. 30, Issue 3 (2013).
- "Legal Personhood and the Nonhuman Rights Project" 17 Animal Law 1 (2010)
- "Commentary, An Argument for the Basic Legal Rights of Farmed Animals," Michigan Law Review First Impressions 106 (2008)
- "Arguments in favour of basic legal rights for nonhumans," Reform (Australian Law Reform Commission March, 2008)
- "The entitlement of chimpanzees to the common law writs of habeas corpus and de homine replegiando to challenge their legal thinghood," 37(2) Golden Gate Law Review 219 (2007)
- "Rattling the Cage Defended," 43 Boston College Law Review 623 (2002)
- "Legal status of nonhuman animals," 8 Animal Law 1 (2002)(symposium participant)
- "Animal Thing to Animal Person – Thoughts on Time, Place, and Theories," 5 Animal Law 59 (1999)
- "Hardly a Revolution – The Eligibility of Nonhuman Animals for Dignity-Rights in a Liberal Democracy," 22 Vermont Law Review 793(1998)
- "Recovery of Common Law Damages of Emotional Distress and Loss of Society for the Wrongful Deaths of Companion Animals," 4 Animal Law 33 (1998)
- Dr. Jane Goodall and Steven M. Wise, "Why Chimpanzees are Entitled to Fundamental Legal Rights," Joint Presentation to Senior Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, August 2, 1996, reprinted in 3 Animal Law 61 (1997)
- "Legal Rights for Nonhuman Animals: The Case for Chimpanzees and Bonobos," 2 Animal Law 179 (1996).
- "The Legal Thinghood of Nonhuman Animals," 23(2) Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 471 (1996), reprinted in Private Law Review (2003) and 4 Private Law Review (2004)(China University of Politics and Law Publishing)
- "How Nonhuman Animals Became Trapped in a Nonexistent Universe," 1 Animal Law 15 (1995)
- "Scientific experimental conduct is not protected by the First Amendment," 6(4) Boston Bar Journal 20 (Sept./ Oct., 1992)
- "Of Farm Animals and Justice," 3 Pace Environmental Law Review 191 (1986)
- "Animal Rights" Encyclopædia Britannica ()
- "Should it be legal to use nonhumans in genetic research?" Encyclopedia of the Human Genome (2003) and Encyclopedia of the Life Sciences (2006)