FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 5, 2021
Lauren Regan, CLDC Executive Director and Senior Attorney
(541) 687-9180 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ravisha Kumar, National Lawyers Guild Seattle Chapter President
Civil Liberties Organizations File Amicus Brief in Support of Washington State Minister: Argue that Rev. Taylor was morally compelled to act to protect the climate
Spokane, WA – Despite the rapidly accelerating climate emergency, a Washington State Court of Appeals recently denied the Reverend George Taylor the right to mount a necessity defense in association with his civil disobedience action to confront this existential ecological and human rights crisis (State ex rel. Haskell v. Spokane County Dist. Court). With this denial of due process now under reconsideration by the Washington State Supreme Court, three Pacific Northwest civil liberties legal organizations have filed a brief of amici curiae (friend of the Court) asking the Court to reverse the lower Court’s ruling and allow this critical ‘lesser of two evils’ defense to move forward.
In 2016, Rev. Taylor and two fellow Veterans for Peace members were arrested for blocking coal and oil trains from passing through Spokane. The activists stated that the lack of any government or corporate action to stem climate change necessitated that they take stronger action for all of our future. This act of civil disobedience followed in the footsteps of a similar Raging Grannies coal and oil train blockade in August 2016 and was predicated upon the core tenets of what has since become known as the climate necessity defense – that when all legal avenues have failed, and the threat is real and immediate, breaking one law to address a greater wrong may be warranted. In the summer of 2017, a Spokane District Court Judge initially ruled that she would allow Rev. Taylor to mount a climate necessity defense, but then the State Superior Court overruled her after an appeal from the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. In June, 2020, Rev. Taylor’s attorneys petitioned the Washington State Supreme Court to review this denial of his right to argue the necessity defense before a jury.
It is the firm belief of the submitting organizations that Washington State’s highest court must reverse the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the superior court and allow Rev. Taylor and his attorneys to present a necessity defense. On January 4th, they submitted an Amici Brief to the Court to bolster and expand upon the petition filed by Rev. Taylor’s legal team.
The full brief can be read HERE.
“Rev. Taylor, and our climate future, have the right to the strongest, most comprehensive defense possible before an impartial jury of his peers,” said civil rights attorney Ralph Hurvitz. “Given the central role of civil disobedience as a legitimate and historically sanctioned mode of confronting the unjust application of laws towards the powerless, this Court should remain suspect of any attempt to limit the due process rights of socially conscious people engaged in these activities.”
“Civil disobedience is an integral thread in the fabric of U.S. democracy. A ruling that individuals who engage in civil disobedience cannot present the necessity defense to a jury undermines our history of validating civil disobedience as an appropriate means of challenging an entrenched status quo. Such a ban deprives individuals of their due process rights,” said National Lawyers Guild attorney, Neil Fox.
“The decision’s underpinning claim that ‘There are always reasonable legal alternatives to disobeying constitutional laws’ fails to recognize the complexity and questions of fact inherent in a necessity defense. It assumes that our systems of democracy have not been threatened or usurped by corporate power and money,” said CLDC Executive Director Lauren Regan. “In order for an action to be reasonable, there must be some chance of it achieving the goal. If the fossil fuel industry outspends, out-lobbies, and otherwise controls our democracy, then protesters are left with no viable or reasonable option to actually effect change.”
Ms. Regan was the co-counsel, along with attorney Ralph Hurvitz, who previously defended Valve Turner Ken Ward for a similar oil train action in Skagit County, Washington. In that case, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Ward’s right to present a climate necessity defense; the Washington State Supreme Court declined to review the Court of Appeals decision, leaving Washingtonians’ right to present a necessity defense intact.
“The necessity defense has a central role to play in reinvigorating our struggling democracy in that it provides an opportunity for the community-at-large to evaluate whether an action taken for the greater good does in fact maximize social benefit. Moreover, the reasonableness issue is traditionally an element evaluated by juries rather than prosecutors and individual judges,” Regan explained.
“Protesters who engage in civil disobedience are making a value judgment on behalf of their community: that avoiding a particular harm contributes more to the greater good than adherence to a particular law. The role of a jury in a necessity case is to ratify or reject that calculation. The Court of Appeals’ decision usurps this important role of the jury and should not be adopted by this Court,” the groups wrote in the brief.