For the first time in the history of the United States, two chimpanzees were granted a writ of habeas corpus by Manhattan Supreme Court justice Barbara Jaffe. The non-human plaintiffs, Hercules and Leo, are being medically experimented on at Stony Brook University on Long Island. Jaffe ordered the president of the University, Samuel Stanley Junior, to explain why the monkeys were “unlawfully detained”.

The precedent took place on Monday, but the following day the judge struck the words “habeas corpus writ” to remove the implication of her considering the chimps having legal person status. “This is one step in a long, long struggle,” said Steven Wise, the lawyer behind the initiative. “She never says explicitly that our non-human plaintiffs were persons but by issuing the order … she’s either saying implicitly that they are or that they certainly can be. So that’s the first time that has happened. It feels great. We knew it was going to happen sometime,” he added. “Even though we’re scattered all around the country we all gave each other a high five over the phone.”

David Bokstaver, spokesman for the judge, said Jaffe never said the chimps were persons. He said the judge only gave the opportunity to opposing parties to argue their case. Habeas corpus petitions have the purpose of fighting illegal imprisonment.

Wise argues in this case that chimps are emotionally complex, intelligent and aware of themselves enough to be entitled to enjoy certain human rights. According to him, chimps are “autonomous and self-determining.”