50 Years on the frontlines for justice
It Started with Silkwood
Our founders, Danny Sheehan and Sara Nelson, first met while seeking justice for Karen Silkwood. On November 13, 1974, Silkwood — a safety inspector with the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union — was run off the road in rural Oklahoma on her way to meet a New York Times reporter. She possessed damning evidence of safety violations at her workplace, a plutonium fuel rods plant.
Danny filed a lawsuit on behalf of Silkwood's children, and a coalition — including the National Organization for Women (where Sara served in leadership), the Jesuit Office of Social Ministries, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union — undertook a campaign to build support for the lawsuit. The jury in Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee awarded a record-setting $10.5 million judgment to Silkwood’s estate. The case established new precedent in liability law, and it effectively ended construction of all new nuclear power plants in the United States.
In June, 1979, the jury in the Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee trial awarded a record-setting $10.5 million judgement to Silkwood’s estate the largest in the history of the American judicial system at that time.
Karen Silkwood, a safety inspector and activist with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, died when her car was run off the road in rural Oklahoma in November, 1974.
Our Chief Counsel, President & Co-founder Daniel Sheehan, Esq. and our Executive Director & Co-founder Sara Nelson disscuss the Silkwood case in 1977.
The Christic Institute is Born
After the Silkwood verdict, Danny and Sara led a team to Washington, D.C. and founded the Christic Institute.
Over the next 17 years, the Institute prosecuted and amplified some of the most celebrated public interest cases of our time, including the Iran-Contra Affair, Three Mile Island, and the American Sanctuary Movement. Together, they created a unique model for social reform in the United States.
Central to our activities were Action Teams that formed to pressure elected officals to act on the eveidence we discovered and presented and to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Daniel Sheehan Esq. and Sara Nelson look on during congressional testimony.
The first staff of the Christic Institue gather on the stoop in our Washington DC office. circa 1980.
The Romero Institute Today
Today, Danny and Sara continue their legacy of winning justice and mission to safeguard future generations at the Romero Institute. Your support empowers their continued presence at the forefront of the movement to protect people and planet.
Solving the Global Climate Emergency
We focus in California and the Dakotas on local and statewide solutions to confront the global climate crisis. In partnership with frontline communities, allied organizations, and you, we oppose pipelines and other toxic infrastructure, we amplify underrepresented voices, and we seek legal and policy remedies to help protect people and planet.
Providing Lakota-Run Kinship Care
We've opened a Native-run kinship care home on the Standing Rock Nation, and will soon oversee a teen center there as well, providing the most vulnerable children on the reservation with safe spaces to learn, stay, and play.
The Christic Institute prevailed in the pursuit of justice for:
Under a new application of the provisions of the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Criminal Organizations Act (RICO), Christic brought charges against and exposed 29 people working for Oliver North during the Iran-Contra Affair (Avirgan v. Hull, et al), generating a congressional committee investigation and exposing illegal gun running, massive drug smuggling, assassination programs, and serious constitutional violations.
The first legal victory in the American Sanctuary Movement came from Christic’s defense of Catholic workers in Texas who provided sanctuary for refugees seeking political asylum. (U.S. v. Stacey Lynn Merkt, et al.)
When Reactor 2 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, suffered a partial meltdown on March 28, 1979, the Christic Institute legal team filed an injunction against the company and stopped them from dumping tons of radioactive waste into the Susquehanna River, saving countless lives.
The Christic Institute exposed the dangers of the nuclear industry and won a record-setting $10.5 million judgment against the Kerr-McGee chemical company (Silkwood v. Kerr McGee), effectively ending construction of all new nuclear power plants in the United States for 30 years.
In North Carolina, Christic filed suit against the City of Greensboro, the Greensboro police department, the KKK, and the American Nazi Party (Waller v. Butkovich), winning significant monetary damages for plaintiffs whose coworkers were gunned down in televised Klan violence. This was a rare legal victory in the southern United States.