Founded in 1980, the Christic Institute was a nonprofit law and public policy center that combined investigation with high-impact litigation, public education and grassroots organizing. During its 17 years the Institute won some of the most celebrated public interest cases of our time.
As the successor to the Christic Institute, the Romero Institute possesses an archive which includes documents from the Christic cases and other investigations conducted by the founders of the Institutes over the last forty years. The archive materials reveal a chilling portrait of the hidden history of covert operations from World War II to the present and the evolution of our nation's intelligence services into a private, "Off-the-Shelf Enterprise.".
Currently, Romero is preparing an effort to digitize thousands of pages of these archive documents and make them available to schools, nonprofit organizations, and other educational and charitable groups. The availability of this history is key to our society's ability to prevent it from being repeated. Below are summaries of some of the landmark cases investigated and litigated by the Christic Institute, with links to the preliminary archive page for each case.
In Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee, the Institute organized a team of lawyers to represent the family of Karen Silkwood, an employee of the Kerr-McGee Nuclear Corporation who died in 1975. The case, decided in 1984 by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Christic Institute's favor, established precedents in law that give citizens and states more power over the hazardous operations of nuclear corporations. The Institute proved in court that Kerr-McGee was responsible for Silkwood's contamination by radioactive plutonium, and forced the corporation to pay more than $1.3 million to her children. The Institute's case files served as the raw material for the movie Silkwood, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep and Cher.
After a death squad organized by the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan murdered several demonstrators in 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Christic Institute won a verdict in federal civil court against five of the assailants and two police officers. The verdict is one of the few decisions in a southern court to date against law enforcement officials accused of collusion with Klan violence.
In 1989 Christic Institute South and the American Civil Liberties Union helped the black voters of Keysville, Georgia, win back the right to elect their town government, which had been abolished by the town's white minority in 1933. Deprived of political power prior to the time of the action, the town's black citizens had no sewers, water system, fire department or schools. Now the town is governed by its own elected council and mayor.
In 1986, the Christic Institute brought charges against 28 individuals involved in the Iran-Contra Affair (Avirgan v. Hull). Filed under the provisions of the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Criminal Organizations Act (RICO), the case gave Christic broad investigative powers. Using these powers they were able to compel testimony and subpoena evidence that revealed the existence of a "secret team" within the United States intelligence community that had been engaged in a decades-long pattern of criminal activity in the conduct of covert operations. The Christic Institute's suit and public education campaign created broad public awareness of the Iran-Contra Affair, eventually forcing the appointment of Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh. Ultimately, the suit failed to win any civil judgment against the defendants. President George H. W. Bush pardoned the principal conspirators and the case was dismissed by Federal Judge James Lawrence King. A Nixon appointee, King was later discovered to have been a Member of the Board of Directors of organized-crime accountant Meyer Lansky's Miami National Bank as well as a legal consultant to the Central Intelligence Agency. The final blows came when Judge King ordered Christic to pay one million dollars of the defendant's legal fees and the IRS stripped the Institute of its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status after claiming the suit was politically-motivated.
The Institute filed the suit in response to a bombing in La Penca, Nicaragua that killed eight people and injured twelve others, including a journalist from ABC. Investigation of the incident by Christic employees revealed involvement in the bombing by former intelligence officials and private "soldiers of fortune" who were supplying arms for the Contra war against Nicaragua.