• April 22nd, 2024
  • Monday, 09:35:15 AM

Supreme Court’s Dangerous Donziger Decision


 

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Chase Iron Eyes

Chase Iron Eyes

 

The U.S. Supreme Court just keeps getting things wrong. In late March, it declined to review attorney Steven Donziger’s appeal of his criminal conviction for contempt of court. If Donziger’s name sounds familiar to you, that’s perhaps because he’s a good man who helped win a landmark $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron on behalf of thousands of Indigenous People in the Ecuadorian Amazon. More than a decade ago, the oil giant was found guilty of causing disastrous health problems via its brazen environmental pollution of the world’s largest rainforest.

 

Chevron, represented by Big Oil law firm Gibson Dunn, relentlessly contested Donziger’s legal victory in Ecuador, eventually securing a challenge in U.S. federal court. You’re probably also familiar with Gibson Dunn — the same firm now representing the plaintiffs seeking to dismantle the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) at the Supreme Court. We feel that’s no coincidence, and it’s one reason we met with Mr. Donziger while he was confined at a halfway house about a year ago.

 

A few other things make this case particularly concerning. Atypically, after the federal prosecutor in Manhattan declined to bring criminal contempt charges against Donziger, a federal judge — who held investments in Chevron at the time of his decision — appointed a private law firm to prosecute anyway. A second federal judge delegated to oversee that prosecution served on the board of the Federalist Society, a far-right think tank known for helping stack the federal judiciary with conservative judges and regularly receiving donations from, you guessed it, Chevron.

 

It should come as no surprise, then, that Donziger was subsequently convicted. He ended up serving nearly two months behind bars and spent another two and half years under house arrest. In 2021, during his incarceration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for Donziger’s release, stating that his pre-trial detention was illegal.

 

It’s critical that we continue to pay attention to the Supreme Court, and not just on ICWA.

 

Donziger appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court, but the justices, in March’s 7-2 decision, denied his petition. It may surprise you to learn the two dissenting justices who supported hearing Donziger’s case were Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. These two deeply conservative men raised concerns about judicial overreach and constitutional protections requiring separation of powers, while the liberal wing of the Court strangely remained silent.

 

It’s critical that we continue to pay attention to the Supreme Court, and not just on ICWA. It’s difficult to fathom the rationale behind some of their recent decisions, but in other cases, it may be entirely too clear. This court seems eager to roll back our freedoms despite years of precedent, as it did when it overturned Roe v. Wade. And, as it has done here, it appears willing to allow new degrees of overreach by activist judges with obvious conflicts of interest.

 

Wopila tanka — thank you for paying attention and standing for justice!

 

 

Chase Iron Eyes is the Co-Director and Lead Counsel at The Lakota People’s Law Project.