In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to take up Steven Donziger’s appeal against his private prosecution by Chevron. Donziger, a human rights lawyer, was convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to six months in prison in 2019 for his role in a long-standing legal battle with the oil giant.
The lower court’s decision has now been upheld, effectively legalizing the concept of private corporate prosecution in the United States. Justice Neil Gorsuch and by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, dissented from the majority decision not to review a lower court case involving the environmental activist.
Donziger’s lawyer, Marty Garbus, expressed disappointment with the ruling, stating that it was a “flagrant violation of the rule of law” and that the concept of corporate prosecution is unique to the United States. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh dissented from the ruling, with Justice Gorsuch describing it as “frightening.”
Garbus emphasized the need to continue fighting against the fossil fuel industry and to prevent corporate prosecutions from becoming the norm in the country.
He urged activists and human rights advocates to seize on the ruling as a rallying point and to continue the fight for justice.
“Steven Donziger won a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron for the oil company’s illegal conduct in Ecuador, so the giant polluter filed a lawsuit against him that led to unfair contempt charges, nearly 1,000 days of arbitrary detention under house arrest, and an unjust conviction,” said New Jersey environmentalist Lisa McCormick. “This latest ruling is another miscarriage of justice in a long train of such abuses.”
“Chevron admitted that its long-term strategy was to demonize Donziger and the company has waged an all-out assault that threatens anyone who might consider standing up for environmental justice,” said McCormick.
The ruling has implications not only for Donziger but for others who may find themselves facing private corporate prosecutions in the future. The legal battle between Donziger and Chevron has been ongoing for over a decade, and the latest ruling is likely to have far-reaching consequences for environmental and human rights activists across the United States.
For Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, the basic constitutional principle of separation-of-powers was violated when the Department of Justice declined to prosecute Donzinger, but the district court judge took it upon himself to appoint a special prosecutor. In their view, the judge assumed “the ‘dual position as accuser and decisionmaker’ — a combination that ‘violat[es the] due process’ rights of the accused.”
“However much the district court may have thought Mr. Donziger warranted punishment, the prosecution in this case broke a basic constitutional promise essential to our liberty,” argued Gorsuch in the dissent. “In this country, judges have no more power to initiate a prosecution of those who come before them than prosecutors have to sit in judgment of those they charge.”
You must log in to post a comment.