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Sorry, Free Willy, Not This Time. Sorry About the Tissue Damage.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that cetaceans -- whales, porpoises and dolphins -- do not have standing to sue the US government in court.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco [...] said it saw no reason why animals should not be allowed to sue but said they had not yet been granted that right.

"If Congress and the President intended to take the extraordinary step of authorizing animals as well as people and legal entities to sue they could and should have said so plainly," Judge William A. Fletcher wrote in an 18-page opinion for the panel.

The cause of the suit is serious -- the use of low-frequency sonar by the Navy as a possible violation of the Endangered Species Act -- and the ruling raises some interesting questions. If only people and "legal entities" -- that is, corporations -- have the right to sue, how will we define "people" in an era of rapid technological change? Would a putative machine intelligence have to be registered as a corporation in order to assert its rights? How would the courts define "person" if faced with radically bioengineered humans?

Is the act of asking for the protection of one's rights prima facia evidence that such rights should be granted?

Comments (1)

Emily Gertz:

There is Christopher Stone's position in "Should Trees Have Standing," that non-humans be put under the special guardianship of humans or organizations to advocate for them. He was not thinking of AI, and frankly I think we have plenty to worry about now without bringing improbable scenarios of sentient machines into the mix, but it could apply equally.


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