Fighting for Justice – For People–For Planet – Since 2003
Since our founding, the Civil Liberties Defense Center has defended more than 2,500 activists in court–with the lion’s share of those cases either being won outright or dismissed–and trained more than 7,500 in the legal issues pertinent to engaging in political dissent. Our criminal and civil law expertise, ability to effectively translate legalese, and legal education programs have provided a foundation that activists can rely on to more confidently tackle the tough issues they are confronting. We have won cases that others thought impossible, and we keep pushing the envelope in the court system because we know we are on the right side of history.
With 2020 bringing both historic environmental harm and human suffering as well as a profoundly powerful and growing demand for a more just world, it is important to celebrate our victories, acknowledge our challenges, and learn from both so as to present the strongest front possible for a more livable and just planet. Below are some highlights of CLDC’s efforts to help visionary and bold activists keep building that world in the face of State repression and corporate destruction.
To date, CLDC has represented more than 2,500 environmental, animal, and social justice activists facing charges for civil disobedience, and provided support for hundreds of other cases in the form of legal briefs and research, including:
- Fought against the Green Scare—the government’s unconstitutional attack on environmental and animal rights activists—by conducting research, participating in public outreach and education, and assisting with the legal defense of non-cooperating defendants. CLDC also provided attorney referrals for individual defendants and assisted their attorneys with various legal issues;
- Defended “Valve Turners” in Washington, Oregon, and Montana–including Ken Ward for his part in the “Shut it Down” actions targeting tar sands oil production and transportation–successfully advancing the climate necessity defense for the first time;
- Were a founding member of the Water Protector Legal Collective. We represented several water protectors facing criminal charges for their role in resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and we filed civil suits on behalf of two who were seriously injured by brutal police misconduct;
- Coordinated a legal defense team representing the 52 people arrested in Anacortes, WA for their part in the “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” protest;
- Coordinated the successful defense of Shell No! Activists, who used civil disobedience to challenge Shell’s Arctic oil refinery operations, against a military tribunal—winning four of five cases outright and settling the fifth;
- Successfully defended six citizen journalists facing empty charges for observing government conduct in public, including one where all charges were dropped, against a person who filmed a roundup of wild buffalo outside Yellowstone National Park;
- Successfully represented local activist Perry Patterson, a mother of two draft-age sons, who was arrested for shouting “No!” at a Cheney rally after the Vice President stated that an escalation of the war in Iraq was necessary; and
- Continue to represent activists affiliated with Extinction Rebellion, immigrant rights, indigenous rights, Black Lives Matter, and other environmental and social justice movements caught in the crosshairs of a broken justice system.
Civil Rights Litigation
The tandem rise of corporate power and the police state in America has had profound and lasting impacts on dissent and democracy, especially for people of color and other vulnerable populations. To stop the chilling of our essential right to protest harmful actions and laws, and to help ensure the safety of those who stand up to injustice, CLDC has waged legal campaigns that:
- Secured a major victory in the Oregon Court of Appeals by defending the constitutional right to protest, arguing that a state law violated the state and federal Constitutions. The Court struck down the “Interfering with Agricultural Operations” statute in its entirety and then exonerated over sixty forest activists the CLDC represented in the courts;
- Defeated and will help deter SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) suits by industry and their corporate law firms seeking to silence their opposition. In 2019, we won a resounding defeat of Energy Transfer Partners and Resolute Forest Products’ SLAPP suits again Rainforest Action Network, Earthworks, STAND, and local activists;
- Set legal precedent for the rights of Occupy Eugene activists to assemble on federal property for the purpose of peaceful protest;
- Secured the right of Oregon prisoners to practice the Rastafarian religion by allowing them to wear dreadlocks while incarcerated;
- Stopped the FBI from subpoenaing religious records from a Portland-area mosque;
- Restored the rights of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe to perform traditional coming of age ceremonies in peace and protect their sacred places;
- Improved policies at the jail in Klamath County, Oregon, and obtained a fair settlement for the family of a Native American man murdered while in custody;
- Allowed tar sands blockade activists to obtain documents exposing the FBI’s close relationship with TransCanada (the corporation responsible for the Keystone Pipeline), in using government spies to infiltrate and subsequently undermine the activist organization; and
- Won a civil rights lawsuit against the Eugene Police Department for their use of excessive force against an environmental activist who attempted to lawfully film an officer during a confrontation.
Educating and Empowering Movements
CLDC is also an expert on the laws pertaining to dissent and protest, and offers a varied and informative know-your-rights (KYR) training series to educate activists on those laws, help keep them safe, and increase their effectiveness. More than 7,500 people have attended these trainings over the years. Our work in this area has included:
- In-person trainings for: KYR broadly, special Spanish, youth, and transgender rights training, and digital security for activists;
- Personalized trainings: CLDC works with movements and organizations to identify the knowledge and legal tools they need to confidently advance their goals, and then to provide that information–from co-hosting weeklong action camps for youth and anti-pipeline activists to providing non-profits in-depth understanding of the laws affecting their activism;
- Legal observer trainings and support: In conjunction with the National Lawyers Guild, CLDC staff attorneys manage the Cascadia chapter of the NLG, providing trainings and mobilizations for legal observers at protests and other actions where police misconduct could threaten people’s rights. In June 2020, in response to the historic mobilization for black lives and against police brutality, CLDC co-led a nationwide legal observer training webinar that prepared more than 500 new legal observers to conduct that oversight;
- Webinar trainings: The advent of Covid-19 spurred CLDC to develop and conduct a weekly online webinar series, which dramatically increased the number of participants in our KYR program; and
- Printing and distributing know your rights materials in English, Spanish, and Arabic.
More detail on our most recent accomplishments can be found in our 2019 Year-In-Review.