Greenpower Victory Potluck, 2016.

A Tradition of Action

The Romero Institute is an interfaith, nonprofit law and public policy center based in Santa Cruz, CA. We expose structural injustice and litigate cases that matter to the wellbeing of the human family. Much of our work now focuses on climate change and the bad actors that carelessly harm the environment. We support solutions to climate degradation through public education, grassroots organizing, leadership development, research, investigation, litigation, and forward-thinking public policy.

We take our name from Óscar Arnulfo Romero, a Catholic archbishop of El Salvador assassinated in 1980 for his activism against the government-sponsored death squads known to kill and disappear those who stood up for their rights.

A Formative Event

Our founders, Daniel (Danny) Sheehan and Sara Nelson, met while seeking justice for Karen Silkwood. On November 13, 1974, 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. She was on her way to meet a New York Times reporter with a folio containing evidence of safety violations at the plutonium fuel rods plant where she worked.

Following a nationwide demand for an investigation, Danny—already a noted social justice attorney—filed a lawsuit on behalf of Silkwood's children. A broad and unlikely coalition of organizations undertook a public education and organizing campaign to publicize the lawsuit, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Jesuit Office of Social Ministries, the Environmental Policy Institute, the Quixote Center, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Fund for Constitutional Government, the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, and the Anti-Nuclear Movement.

Danny, an attorney with the Jesuit Office of Social Ministries, and Sara, the National Labor Secretary for NOW, worked tirelessly on Silkwood’s behalf.

The jury in Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee awarded a record-setting $10.5 million judgement to Silkwood’s estate. The case established new precedent in liability law, and effectively ended construction of all new nuclear power plants in the United States.

Danny Sheehan, 1977.
Christic Team, c. 1986.
Sara Nelson, 1985.

The Christic Institute

After the Silkwood verdict, several of the allies, including Danny and Sara, regrouped in Washington, D.C. and founded the Christic Institute. Over the next 17 years, the Institute prosecuted some of the most celebrated public interest cases of our time. By combining investigation, litigation, education, and organizing, they created a unique model for social reform in the United States.

The real patriots are not the flag-waving arms dealers who have profited from drug-smuggling, but courageous men and women of the Christic Institute, who have worked to expose the truth about U.S. foreign policy despite threats and attempts at intimidation.

– Coretta Scott King
Protest, c. 1987.
San Francisco action team, c. 1989.
Anti-war protest, 1990.

The Romero Institute

Today, through the Romero Institute, Danny and Sara continue to safeguard our world for future generations by standing up against powerful entities and individuals who commit grievous acts against humanity. Together, they stand at the forefront of the movement confronting the world’s most pressing and dangerous act of injustice—the malicious destruction of the environment by the fossil fuel industry.

Some of the Institute’s accomplishments include:

Our 1991 investigation into the murder (previously covered up as a suicide) exposed a guns-for-drugs smuggling operation directed by the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station’s Deputy Base Commander, Colonel James Underwood. Shortly after our revelations, Underwood and Base Commander General Adams were both forced into early retirement.

In 2007 the California Department of Food and Agriculture started spraying the Santa Cruz and Monterey areas from airplanes to kill the Light Brown Apple Moth. Spraying ceased in June 2008, shortly after our local coalition's investigation committee linked the sale of the pesticides to a major campaign contributor of then-Governor Schwarzenegger.

As part of our ongoing work for the Lakota, we brought a national expert into South Dakota in 2014 to meet with leaders in eight of the tribal communities. At their request, she submitted applications for Title IV-E Development Grants for seven tribes. Standing Rock and Oglala received their grants, marking the first step in establishing a foster care system for Lakota, run by Lakota.

Landmark Cases

The Christic Institute prevailed in the pursuit of justice for:

Iran Contra Affair

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 involved with the Iran-Contra Affair. (Avirgan v. Hull, et al)

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American Sanctuary Movement

The first vindicating argument in the American Sanctuary Movement came from Christic’s defense of Catholic workers who provided sanctuary for refugees seeking political asylum. (U.S. v. Stacey Lynn Merkt, et al.)

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Three-Mile Island Incident

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 was called in to help oversee the legal proceedings and represent victims of the disaster.

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Karen Silkwood

The Christic Institute won a record-setting $10.5 million judgement against the Kerr-McGee chemical company, effectively ending construction of all new nuclear power plants in the United States for 30 years. (Silkwood v. Kerr McGee)

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The Greensboro Massacre

Christic won $350,000 in damages for plaintiffs who brought suit against the City of Greensboro, North Carolina, the Greensboro police department, the KKK and American Nazi Party—a rare verdict in the southern United States. (Waller v. Butkovich)

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Partner With Us

The Romero Institute receives many appeals for help.

In determining who we partner with, we look for cases where injustice is severe and systemic, and where the goals for change will impact large numbers of people on a local, state, national, and global level. We are currently focused on projects associated with exposing and opposing the entities responsible for global climate change, and creating and supporting solutions to the biggest humanitarian crisis in history.

We embrace projects that ignite new ways of thinking and seeing—that touch the deeper knowing in people and promote a consciousness based on cooperation and unity.

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