Law professor and philosopher Martha Nussbaum discussed the benefits of giving animals legal rights and representation in courts during a special segment of MSNBC’s “The Beat with Ari Melber” Monday.

Melber introduced a new segment titled “Open Mind” where he will debate and discuss somewhat radical ideas with an open mind to learn a new perspective. Nussbaum was his first guest, arguing about the benefits of animals having legal rights.

“Well, I think it’s pretty obvious what the benefit to the animals is. Humans are dominating everywhere, all over the globe. There is no such thing as wild nature. On the land, every space there is, is dominated by human beings, so animals are losing their habitats. And in the seas, as I say, whales are suffering from the things that humans do. In the skies, migratory birds are choking on air pollution and banging into buildings that have bright light,” Nussbaum said.

She continued, “So we’re dominating everywhere, and so the benefit to the animals is they can be, as it were, co-creators of this wonderful world we live in, not just victims of aggression. But the benefits to us, I think, are the benefits of, you know, living in a world where we’re companions of not just a dog or a cat, but companions of many different types of animals, of the elephants that right now are being poached almost to extinction.”

Martha Nussbaum feels that “we’re failing the animals of the world and we’re not taking their plight seriously.”

Man with dog.
“There are lots of laws protecting dogs and cats, but a lot of animals are just not protected,” the professor explained.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Melber pressed further for Nussbaum to explain what legal rights for animals would look like.

“Well, it means legal protections,” Nussbaum said. “Of course they’re not going to go to court themselves. I wouldn’t go to court myself because I’m not a lawyer. It just means that somebody can go into court, represent them, and argue on their behalf, and there would be laws on the books, as there are now that protect companion animals. There are lots of laws protecting dogs and cats, but a lot of animals are just not protected.”

More specifically, Nussbaum said, “The lawyer would have to consult with people who know the animals very well and who live with them and you know, the way that if you were living with a dog, you would get to know that animal really well, and you would know what’s in that animal’s interests. And usually, there are plenty of laws on the books already saying that dogs have to be treated in such and such a way.” 

“Because those animals we live with, we know about them and we care about them. If we then expand our minds and our understanding and our concern to other species, I think we will want to pass other laws, so it’s really just extending the interest of animals and bringing them into the legal arena in a way that allows good laws to be enforced,” she concluded.

Nussbaum added, in the spirit of “Open Mind,” that she is open to criticism but continues to feel “we’re failing the animals of the world and we’re not taking their plight seriously, and we’re inflicting terrible unnecessary horrors on animals, that I feel absolutely certain.”

“There’s no constitutional barrier to giving animals standing,” she insisted.

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