Over on Twitter, there's a discussion that got my attention re legal personhood for animals and corporations:
To be sure, there are moral and philosophical arguments to be made against granting animals the status of legal persons. There's an excellent article by Richard Cupp, Children, Chimps, and Rights Arguments from 'Marginal' Cases, 45 Ariz. St. L.J. 1 (2013), for example, in which he argues that:
Animals are not children. The legal rights paradigm that has developed for children over the past fifty years entails inherent tensions and remains a subject of controversy, but the core concept of assigning some rights to children based on their humanity and on their relationship to the social contract is sensible, and shows no sign of eroding. Although animals have more cognitive ability than was once believed, the gulf between animal consciousness and human consciousness remains wide. Further, recent scientific research about fundamental differences between human minds and animal minds challenges the notion that the more we learn about animal minds, the more we will understand that they are capable of thinking like we think. Being a speciesist is good, not bad, when substantial differences exist between species. A legal rights paradigm is simply not a good fit for nonhumans with little relationship to the social contract upon which legal rights are based.
Rejecting a legal rights paradigm for animals does not license abuse. To the contrary, appropriate focus on the weighty moral responsibility of the true decision-makers regarding animal welfare--rights-bearing human participants in the social contract--is the most promising route to more humane treatment of animals.
Yet, most law review writing on the subject naively assumes that the arguments for corporate personhood carry over to the animal context. E.g., "Though humans share ninety-nine percent of our DNA with certain nonhuman animals (which is a lot more than we share with a ship or a corporate entity), nonhuman animals are excluded from the extensive list of legal persons. This exclusion is perplexing in light of the fact that the majority of legal entities lack one fundamental characteristic that human and nonhuman animals share: the breath of life." 47 Wake Forest L. Rev. 1243, 1246-47.
The problem, I believe, is that attempts to define the debate in moral or philosophical terms ignores the basic fact that the rationale for corporate personhood sounds in neither. Instead, it is based on practicality and utility. Put another way, we treat the corporation as a legal person because doing so has proven to be a highly efficient way for real people to organize their business activities and to vindicate their rights. Put yet another way, we treat the corporation as a legal person because it is a nexus of contracts between real persons. Which is something no animal can ever be.