Ward Churchill is taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court (Photo by Carol Berry)

Churchill Takes His Case to the U.S. Supreme Court

Carol Berry
December 29, 2012

Ward Churchill, former University of Colorado (CU) professor, has rolled the dice a last time, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will review his firing from CU for research misconduct, a charge he has repeatedly litigated in the lower courts because he believes his dismissal originated in political heat generated by a post-9/11online essay he wrote.

The odds aren’t in his favor in the nation’s high court, which has a conservative reputation and which reviews only about 1 percent of cases brought before it.

The Colorado Court of Appeals, affirmed by the Colorado Supreme Court, ruled in 2010 that Churchill failed to prove that CU’s investigation of his scholarship was an “adverse employment action” resulting in termination despite his free-speech rights, and that the granting of “quasi-judicial immunity” to CU Regents in his firing was inconsistent with civil rights law.

Although Churchill wrote extensively on Native American issues, he was fired in 2007 from CU’s Ethnic Studies Department after it became known the essay he authored in 2001 compared some World Trade Center employees to “little Eichmanns,” referring to a prominent Nazi who organized details of the Holocaust. Churchill’s later attempted elaboration on the term fell on deaf ears.

CU officials decided the essay was within constitutional free-speech protections, but that simultaneous allegations of research misconduct had to be addressed as any “other wrongdoings within [CU’s] purview” would be examined.

The two questions presented to the U.S. Supreme Court are similar to the issues accepted for consideration by the Colorado Supreme Court, but they are more pointed, for example, in querying whether a “bad faith” investigation of “all” of a professor’s product by state university officials undertaken “in retaliation for the exercise of constitutionally protected speech and with the stated purpose of finding grounds for termination” violates free-speech guarantees.

The high court was also asked whether “absolute, quasi-judicial immunity” should “completely shield a state university and its board of regents’ termination decisions, even when a jury has determined that these officials fired a tenured professor in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment and would not have fired him but for his exercise of free speech.”

Then-Denver District Court Judge Larry Naves, since retired, vacated a jury’s verdict in 2009 that found Churchill would not have been fired had he not written the 9/11 essay, citing CU regents’ blanket immunity from lawsuit.

David Lane, Churchill’s counsel of record, was not immediately available for comment. He maintained throughout the six-year investigatory and litigation process that Churchill would approach the U.S. Supreme Court if all else failed, in part to safeguard academic freedom of speech. CU officials, on the other hand, have said the university’s reputation would be compromised if Churchill were allowed to teach despite the negative academic findings.

The decision as it stands “allows state officials to retaliate against professors who express unpopular views—liberal or conservative, religious or secular—with impunity,” Churchill said.

The petition, filed with the Supreme Court December 10, included a 43-page statement of the case and 183 pages of attachments, including lower court opinions, cases cited, and relevant statutes’ citations. The Supreme Court will issue a decision on whether to review the case at an undetermined future date.


Submitted by Anonymous on

This man has surrounded himself with many constituted misrepresentations? This Vietnam Vet has been given life in the white man world on a platter.Documents in Churchill's university personnel file show that he was granted tenure in a "special opportunity position. He seems to been given special treatment as they do here for the whites in America.He was debunked as a Native American, it will be interesting to see what prevails for this PTSD infected Ethics BUFF !!. I learned in college that an " Hypothesis" stays that way, just to be safe. Can he or anyone define Free-speech in this country? After 9/11 it seems that anything you say or do is unpatriotic, even if 9/11 proves to be bogus !!

Submitted by Anonymous on

There is a war against Ethnic Studies in academia (Okihiro 2010). Silencing is the purpose of this war. Silencing of those who represent a threat to the Eurocentric version of American history. A warning for those who use the white forced assimilation tactics of blood quantum as reasoning for denying validity of Dr. Churchill's veracity; This is not acceptable in American Indian culture. Do you think AIM warriors were checking eye color of those standing strong with them fighting goons protecting the elders at Pine Ridge? Does the Idle No More movement ask that only card holding Indians participate in their cause? If CU violates the rights of Dr. Churchill it creates precedent to violate us all. Academics and American Indians should be screaming from the streets about this. It is but one more chip at American Indian, Ethnic Studies and Ten Year professor's unalienable rights. As colorful as Dr. Churchill may be, he was wronged by CU. There are plenty of university professors who have spoken out against the 9/11 quagmire. Why Churchill? There should be an investigation into all of those trying to silence him.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Dr. Churchill's civil liberties may have been violated,because of this war in Ethnic Studies in academia. He may have been too outspoken as a Native American, and the attempt to silence him, is a underline message to others. I was too hasty to comment earlier, but if he can forgive, maybe he can be forgiven.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why is this important, when there are so many other issues facing Native People? Professor Churchill's struggle will in my view not change anything if he wins or loses. BIA hospitals will remain underfunded, too many Native women will continue to be mistreated by our own men, many BIA approved tribal government officials will remain corrupt, the XL pipeline will be built, and fracking will continue to contaminate our community's water supply. Were he to exert the same effort on these issues as he does protecting his career and individual rights under ohneg law, I might be inclined to be more sympathetic. Unfortunately like so many who get theirs, he seems more concerned with himself than the Kituwha, which he claims membership to, or other Native People's plight for that matter.

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