New York Governor Kathy Hochul (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s botched chief judge nomination process has been a blow to her first term as elected governor. And it just got worse.

For the first time since governors began making the chief judge nomination in 1970, the New York Senate Judiciary Committee rejected her first nominee, Hector LaSalle, as too moderate for their liking. A full Senate vote afterwards tanked him too. As a consequence, Gov. Hochul was forced to make a second nomination, this time offering a nominee that’s a progressive favorite – New York Court of Appeals Associate Judge Rowan Wilson.

If Judge Wilson’s name rings a bell, it’s because he’s the one who dissented in a 2022 New York case where he deemed Happy, a four-ton Bronx Zoo elephant, a person with rights. Who could forget such a poorly-reasoned opinion.

Pachyderm-Person Ploy

The anti-hunting group Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) has tried several times to sue and claim Happy the Elephant isn’t truly an animal but instead is a person with “personhood” rights. The group claims Happy is being held by the Bronx Zoo against her will. In fact, Happy is a 50-year-old elephant in zookeepers’ care since 1977. She’s well-fed, bathed and watched over. Happy even has a social life with visitors and other elephants.

happy elephant bronx zoo
Bronx Zoo elephant “Happy” feeds inside the zoo’s Asia habitat. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The NhRP just can’t take the embarrassment hint. They first sued making their case against Happy’s “detainment” to court in 2018. “She’s a depressed, screwed-up elephant,” said NhRP’s founder. The group wasted the court’s time and resources with junk lawsuits in 2018 and 2020 and both times the court rejected their claims.

Finally, an appellate court agreed with the ruling of a lower court, which brought the case to the New York Court of Appeals in 2022. Happy has remained at the Bronx Zoo this entire time.

Enter Judge Wilson 

The New York Court of Appeals is the state’s highest court. They rejected by a 5-2 decision NhRP’s most recent lawsuit.

“While no one disputes the impressive capabilities of elephants, we reject petitioner’s arguments that it is entitled to seek the remedy of habeas corpus on Happy’s behalf,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote. “Habeas corpus is a procedural vehicle intended to secure the liberty rights of human beings who are unlawfully restrained, not nonhuman animals.”

Other judges appeared irritated they had to waste time hearing the case yet again. Judge Jenny Rivera questioned the NhRP’s attorneys, asking, “If Happy is a person, does that mean that I couldn’t keep a dog? I mean, dogs can memorize words.”

The court’s decision was the most recent rejection of the anti-hunting group’s attempt to assign personhood to animals. Judge Rowan Wilson was among the decision’s two dissenters. He felt it was his duty to argue for NhRP.

Bronx Zoo Elephant-Lawsuit
Bronx Zoo elephant “Happy” strolls inside the zoo’s Asia display, Tuesday Oct. 2, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In his dissent, Judge Wilson wrote the court had a duty “to recognize Happy’s right to petition for her liberty,” not just because “she is a wild animal who is not meant to be caged and displayed, but because the rights we confer on others define who we are as a society.” Of course, it is people – humans – upon whom rights are conferred, not animals. People uniquely have rights in America.

That’s why Judge Wilson’s nomination to be the highest judicial official in New York is an embarrassment and should concern those who value hunting, conservation, wildlife management and animal agriculture communities.

What’s At Stake

Local media outlet WAMC described Judge Wilson’s nomination to the chief judge position, saying “New York’s chief judge is a position responsible for leading the state’s highest court and managing the judicial branch of state government.”

In nominating Judge Wilson, Gov. Hochul praised his record, stating in a press release, “Judge Wilson’s sterling record of upholding justice and fairness makes him well-suited to lead the court at this critical time.”

Given New York’s anti-hunting and antigun majorities in the state’s legislature, as well as a governor who pushes among the strictest gun control laws in the country, a chief judge who is biased to assign human rights to animals is extremely concerning.

Coincidentally, it’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who wrote the blistering rejection of the NhRP case involving Happy the Elephant, who Judge Wilson will replace if confirmed, as is expected.

If Judge DiFiore’s court had decided Happy did indeed possess personhood rights, as Judge Wilson preferred, the floodgates would fly open for future lawsuits. Animal rights groups could sue dairy cow or meat processing operations, pig and poultry growers or pheasant preserves. That would be a severe obstacle to hunters harvesting wild game for their freezers and wildlife management biologists that rely on hunting as a wildlife conservation management tool.

It’s hunters who support The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which demonstrates that when a society puts intrinsic value on wildlife, those species prosper. NhRP’s goal wasn’t to free Happy. It was to force a radical anti-hunting agenda by judicial precedent that would disenfranchise hunters – the original conservationists.

The judge who supports that effort is now nearly atop New York’s entire judicial system.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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  1. I was going to say “We need to talk about the elephant in the room.. ” …but…

        • If not for enjoying some aspects of my job, the various wilderness and my wife’s family we would probably just move south or commute from NH.

      • “Also we are looking at a lead ban for hunting ammo this session.”

        Strange, there was never a ban on any type of ammunition at this nation’s founding.

        Ask your hunters to file a lawsuit… 🙂

        • Gotta pass first but yeah going to be interesting to see how environmental regulations play with Bruen.

        • Actually now that I think about it I will have to check with the DEC folks (rangers and such) and see what issues all copper bullets will have with trees as I am pretty sure it tends to kill them while jacketed lead is less destructive to them. But unintended consequences are a bitch.

    • That is a slur on circuses everywhere. Circus personnel are highly trained performers. Even the clowns go to clown school and get a certificate that demonstrates their professionalism. A judge is merely a political hack, beholden to the party that elevates him. I have long maintained that judges should be selected at random by placing the name in a bowl and drawing out a name much like the lottery. t would insure that political hack like the judgie-poo in questions would have a lesser chance of getting on the bench. Judges should also have term limits. No appointments for life until they are senile and wetting themselves on the Supreme Court bench like Douglas.

    • With my luck they will get personhood granted to animals and explain animals hunting other animals and normal and natural behavior and start assigning hunting permits for conservatives for equity. Kidding……………I think.

    • When animals are treated as people, it is a short step to treat people like animals.

      It makes it easier to herd people into cattle cars for the journey to the processing center.

      • A more educated format of my previous comment. Also goes with the NY pandemic experience especially downstate towards NYC

    • “You cannot make this shit up.”

      Apparently it can be done, the left-wing/liberal/progressives do it all the time.

      • .40 cal,

        Paraphrasing Orwell, “There is nothing too stupid for a ‘progressive’ to believe.”

        They are in love with the smell of their own farts.

    • If you did, no one would believe it. Naw, couldn’t happen. There is nobody that dumb.

      Hardee har har har. Wrong, maggot breath. It’s living and breathing on the Neu Yoawk court of appeals.

  2. “NY Gov. Kathy Hochul Appoints Judge to the State’s High Court Who Ruled an Elephant is a Person”

    Seriously: Is this supposed to surprise anyone? I’m certain the elephant in question now views itself (!) as a gazelle. It all seems to be a natural progression of, well, the Progressives.

    The real question to ask (a Progressive) then becomes: Exactly what is it that you are progressing towards? Hmm…

    • Good question. And I’ll bet most of them don’t know the answer either. They’ve been lured in with the promise of a grand ut0pian nirvana but don’t realise the path to their destination is really a road of bones.

    • “Exactly what is it that you are progressing towards?”

      Nothing is off limits as long as it’s “consensual.”

    • “The real question to ask (a Progressive) then becomes: Exactly what is it that you are progressing towards?”

      Cancer is ‘progressive’.

      Untreated, it grows until the host is unable to keep feeding the tumor(s), and then kills it.

      Therefore, ‘Progressivism’ is literally a ‘Death Cult’. Since you cannot cure zealots, the only thing to do with them is to invite them to live elsewhere, and pay for the trip…

      • Thanks for the thoughts, guys, but this is a serious question that should be addressed and we should not let up.

        What most conservatives seek is fairly clear and can mostly be found and defined within the scope of our Constitution and founding documents.

        Progressives, on the other.hand, can rarely cite a place or state of existence that they seek to accomplish- it is constantly evolving with each new slice away from reality, as it has been defined for 5000 years.

        Anything that will take the steering wheel from them, or at least press on the brakes, is essential for the survival of the Republic. Most progressives aren’t stupid- presenting them with an opportunity to, at least, reflect on their direction might rein in a few. It might even go so far as to create a few independent thinkers outside of their collective.

  3. Pack your trunk Happy we are going back to Africa.
    “But I’m an Indian elephant. ”
    Nonsense the indians rode horses ,dont try and bullsht me.

  4. With that overbite, Hochul looks like a beaver. So hey, why not?
    I’ll bet she could gnaw her way out of a forest.

      • The woman has enough political baggage to sink a ship yet there you go talking trash like a snot nosed teen who needs his daddy to take him behind a woodshed…I have trapped enough possums to know little joeys are cute and adult possums can smell much worse than any skunk I’ve ever caught…just a fact, no maybe or maybe not.

  5. if democrats
    were even half as good at actual governing
    as they are at being actually clinically insane
    america wouldnt have most of the problems
    that it has right now

  6. Imagine thinking that labelling a zoo animal anything other than a caged animal is going to change anything.

  7. New York, and a select few other states, seem to be operating similar to some of the humor in Mad Magazine; only this is Reality!

  8. Hard to believe that NY state demtards can keep coming up with governors that each is even dumber than the last.

  9. Redflag Larry is at it again, pretending to be an advocate for the 2A. Horse-trading our rights away for “common sense” gun control is what got the NRA into the bottomless hole it is in today and folks loke Redflag Larry are digging the same hole for the NSSF to bury itself into.

    • Naw, the NRA got into trouble because WLP started thinking it was his private monopoly. He had money ties to the suppliers; he had a slush fund to provide him with benefits befitting the private owner of a large corporation. He wanted to run with the senators who have access to all sorts of private perks via lobbies. Try getting on the waiting list at some of the private hunting clubs in the country. Try getting sky box seats at the major year end sport extravaganzas. Try getting speaking engagements where you travel in a private luxury jet to a really first class hotel where you and I can’t, a, get a reservation, and, b, can’t afford it even if we could. Then try drinking booze that doesn’t even get to the liquor store before it is bought up. I was wined and dined in Las Begas when I was convention manager for a national organization. Let me tell you, you don’t know really first class. But if you were a .S. senator, you would most assuredly know first lass and would insist on it every where you go. Look at Pelosi flying her cronies back to SF on the weekends as speaker because she was too important to take first class on a commercial jet.

  10. Hochul is willing to “go back to muskets.” Let’s take her at her word. At that same time, women couldn’t vote or hold office. Problem solved.

  11. 25% of NY residents have said in polls they would move to other states given the opportunity. This woman has just given them another reason to move. Soon no matter how high they make taxes & real estate they won’t have the money needed to carry on as they have been nor the citizens to pay those outrageous taxes & cost of living.

  12. The sad thing is after being in captivity for so long the beast won’t be able to adapt to living in the wilds, so she will end up in another zoo-like setting. That’s all she knows after how long she has spent in the zoo. For the life of me, I don’t see a scintilla of difference between being a captive in a zoo and being captive in “a friendly environment.” The animal probably gets much better care in the zoo than in any setting that depends upon private funding which can change over night.

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