Charlie v. Inman

by Mary G. Thompson



Justice Barrett delivered the opinion of the Court.

The facts before us are as follows: Defendants Sarah and Michael Inman were out for a walk one night near their Northwest Portland home with their dog, Atticus. As they walked by a public park area the size of approximately two single family lots, Atticus began barking and pulling toward a group of trees. The dog was so insistent that the Inmans felt compelled to follow. Upon arriving at the trees, the Inmans discovered a creature about the size of a house cat. This creature stood on two legs and had a face in the shape of a hexagon. Making clicking and slurping sounds with its mouth and waving its arms, it managed to convey that it was in some distress. It raced across the grass and gestured to a metal box that was lying in a hedge, which appeared damaged. Sarah Inman picked up the creature, Michael Inman carried the damaged cube, and the couple returned to their home with it.

Upon subsequent investigation, it was revealed that this creature was an extra-terrestrial, a being who had crashed its spacecraft in the public park. The creature communicated with the Inmans using a small device that purported to translate its clicks and slurps into some semblance of the English language. The Inmans fed and nursed the creature, named it Charlie, and began referring to it with a male pronoun.

The Inmans’ rescue of Charlie garnered significant media attention. The couple was approached by scientists who wished to study Charlie, by television producers who wished to make a reality TV show, and by the United States Government, which demanded that the Inmans hand over Charlie to the FBI. That issue was the subject of a lengthy round of prior litigation which we will not rehash here, except to note that the Inmans retained the right to custody of Charlie, and Charlie, at the inception of this litigation, still resided in their Portland home. After being approached by numerous potential buyers, the Inmans approached Southerby’s auction house and entered into a contract to put Charlie up for sale in accordance with Southerby’s terms. Charlie, with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the present suit. Charlie asked the District Court to enjoin the sale and to free him from the control and ownership of the Inmans.

At issue is a value, according to offers heretofore received by Southerby’s from several major corporations and private collectors, of between thirteen and seventeen million dollars.

The District Court denied Charlie’s petition, but the Ninth Circuit reversed and ordered him freed. The Inmans sought, and we granted, a stay of the Ninth Circuit’s order until this decision could be rendered.

We review the holding of the NinthCircuit de novo.

Plaintiff alleges violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, which reads as follows: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Plaintiff alleges that because the Inmans have detained him against his will and in fact offered him for sale at auction that his condition must thus be considered subject to this provision.

Before we can make such a determination, some inquiry into the origin of the Amendment must be made. The Thirteenth Amendment was enacted at the close of the Civil War to explicitly ban the practice of chattel slavery, which to this day is a black mark on the history of our country. But who was eligible for the condition of slavery?

The Thirteenth Amendment explicitly repealed Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, colloquially known as the Fugitive Slave Clause, which read: “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service of Labour may be due.” The significant language of that clause for our purposes is the very beginning: No Person shall be held to Service or Labour. Now, if we go to any common dictionary, whether of the time or today, we find that person is in the first instance defined as human.[1]

The Person in Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 is undoubtedly the same as the subject of “slavery or involuntary servitude” for purposes of the Thirteenth Amendment. At no time in our history, whether at the time of the original drafting or at the time of the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment, did the drafters of the constitution intend the word slavery to apply to any being that was non-human. One imagines approaching Abraham Lincoln with the idea that his cow or his dog or his barnyard chickens must be released because these animals were slaves.

Plaintiff alleges that he is nothing akin to a common animal but must be considered to be as like a human because of his demonstrated intelligence. The Court is not unsympathetic to this argument and notes that a significant record was created in the District Court as to the subject of Plaintiff’s acuity as compared to the average human.

At trial Plaintiff gave his testimony through the use of his own technology, which purported to translate his vocalizations into English. This technology was stipulated to be useful by both parties, but this Court is skeptical of the ultimate reliability of the testimony. Nevertheless, we defer to the District Court’s finding that Plaintiff demonstrated reasoning abilities at the level of a human child aged ten to twelve except in the case of mathematical skills, in which situation he demonstrated a conceptual ability that far exceeded that of the average human. Indeed, the District Court was unable to comprehend much of Charlie’s mathematical demonstration and required no fewer than four mathematical experts to explain Charlie’s exceptional results. Charlie and the ACLU therefore argue that, by virtue of his intelligence, he must be accorded the protection of the Amendment.

The Ninth Circuit was duly impressed by this argument and ruled that Charlie, ipso facto, was a person and therefore must be released. We disagree. The Thirteenth Amendment was passed by Congress and ratified by the states in 1865. It was written and passed to free the African slaves and for no other purpose. Although we are as amazed by Charlie’s abilities as the Ninth Circuit was, we are not legislators and do not have the power to change the status of an extra-terrestrial, whose personhood was certainly not contemplated by the drafters of this Amendment. The very idea of extra-terrestrials must, to the Congress of 1865, have been absurd. There is nothing in the Thirteenth Amendment that purports to grant any rights whatsoever to an extra-terrestrial. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Thirteenth Amendment claim must fail.

The Fourteenth Amendment, like the Thirteenth, specifies that rights are to be granted to any person. Therefore, for the same reason stated above, Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment claim must also fail.

The judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is


[1] “An individual human being consisting of body and soul.” Webster’s, 1828. “HUMAN, INDIVIDUAL—sometimes used in combination especially by those who prefer to avoid man in compounds applicable to both sexes.” Merriam-Webster, 2020.



Mary G. Thompson is the author of Wuftoom, which Booklist called “impressively unappetizing and absolutely unique,” and other novels. Her contemporary thriller Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee (Putnam) was a winner of the 2017 Westchester Fiction Award and a finalist for the 2018-2019 Missouri Gateway award. Her short fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine, Dark Matter Magazine, and others. Her contemporary thriller The Word is coming in May 2024 from Page Street YA, and her sci-fi novella A Small Universe is coming in March 2025 from Tachyon Publications.

Philosophy Note:

This story was inspired by the US Supreme Court’s turn toward a particular brand of faux-originalism. The Court’s current trajectory could lead to a variety of absurd decisions, including denying personhood to a space alien with human intelligence. Under a strict historical reading of the post-civil-war amendments, a space alien would clearly not be a person, but under a more liberal living-constitution interpretation, there would be room for Charlie’s freedom. Animal rights activists have argued for animal personhood but so far have not been successful. See, for instance,

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