Hot spots, free speech and the law

Last week, amid the usual tsunami of grim news about inflation, mass shootings, the pandemic and war, news emerged that the New York Court of Appeals was considering whether the Bronx Zoo violated human rights. Happy, an Asian elephant who had lived there for more than four decades, confining her to part of a one-acre exhibit.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, which represents Happy, argues that she wants to make her own decisions about things like where to go and what to do, and that she is being illegally detained. They are asking for his release (into a sanctuary) through habeas corpus proceedings. Habeas corpus is a procedure that allows “persons” to challenge a detention. The first thing the court will have to decide is whether Happy – his 5,800 pounds – qualifies as a person.

Meanwhile, in the sordid and conveniently live-streamed wreckage of a libel lawsuit Johnny Depp is waging against his ex-wife Amber Heard, his lawyers argue that the Washington Post the op-ed she wrote about being a victim of domestic violence is free speech, protected by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment, ratified 231 years ago as part of the original Bill of Rights, is responsible for some of our most cherished freedoms. It’s also quite concise. Here it is, in full: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise; or restricting freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people to assemble peacefully and seek redress from the government for their grievances.

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