(CN) – Environmental group Sea Shepherd has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a federal court order barring its anti-whaling activities in the Antarctic.
Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was in contempt of a court order barring it from coming within 500 yards of Japanese whaling ships, after previously referring to the group as pirates.
In a petition for certiorari filed with the U.S. Supreme Court last week, Sea Shepherd challenged the 9th Circuit’s use of the Alien Tort Statute to issue the injunction in favor of the Institute of Cetacean Research.
In a telephone interview, Sea Shepherd attorney Claire Davis said that it was highly unusual to bring an Alien Tort case against an individual or non-profit.
“I’m not aware of any others that have been brought against an environmental group. So, in that sense, this case is kind of an outlier,” said Davis, a lawyer with Seattle firm Lane Powell.
Noting that business groups are following the case closely, Davis said the appellate ruling had created a “new international law” that threatens all businesses.
“The 9th Circuit ruling really sets a welcome mat out in front of U.S. courts for any plaintiff’s lawyer or foreign actor wishing to attack U.S. business, based on grudges that arise anywhere around the globe,” Davis said.
The Alien Tort Statute allows foreign citizens to make claims in federal court for violation of international laws and is usually invoked for violations such as torture or genocide, Davis writes in Sea Shepherd’s April 28 filing.
Davis argues in the petition that the appeals court is overreaching.
“Ironically, while the 9th Circuit’s decision targets environmentalists, the precedent it establishes poses the greatest threat to corporations – the entities most likely to be targeted by broadened Alien Tort Statute actions alleging the violation of new international ‘norms,’ subjected to sweeping extraterritorial jurisdiction, and constrained by expanded injunctive authority and contempt power,” Davis writes.
Sea Shepherd urges the U.S. Supreme Court to restore “judicial restraint” and review the injunction and contempt finding.
Institute of Cetacean Research spokesman Gavin Carter said that the institute would “wait and see” what happens at the Supreme Court.
In an email, Carter wrote that Sea Shepherd had petitioned the high court in early 2013 to vacate the injunction but the court denied the group’s application.
Davis said during her interview that there is almost no overlap between the two petitions.
Though whaling has been banned internationally since 1986, Japanese government research contracts allowed the Institute of Cetacean Research to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.
The International Court of Justice ordered Japan to stop granting the permits to the institute in March 2014, finding that the program was not for the purpose of scientific research and violated international bans on whaling.
Sea Shepherd has campaigned against whalers for the last 10 years. Their missions are documented in the Animal Planet television series “Whale Wars.”
In February 2012, a Seattle federal court declined to issue a temporary injunction barring Sea Shepherd and its founder Paul Watson’s activities in the Southern Ocean, after the institute claimed that the group had rammed vessels and launched acid-filled bottles and smoke bombs at Japanese crew.
After the case was appealed to the 9th Circuit, Judge Alex Kozinski sided with the whalers.
“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” Judge Kozinski wrote of Sea Shepherd’s tactics in 2013. “When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”
The opinion supported the court’s December 2012 injunction barring Sea Shepherd and Watson from attacking the vessels or coming within 500 yards of them.
A contempt finding against Sea Shepherd came after the 9th Circuit found the group had given ships and equipment to an Australian arm of the organization to continue missions.
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