Two weeks ago, I traveled with another ERI legal intern from Washington, DC, to New York City to watch ERI’s Rick Herz argue for justice for the residents of Bhopal, India, at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. ERI represents these plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Union Carbide for its part in creating a faulty waste disposal system that polluted the water of thousands of people. Rick was urging the panel to reverse the trial court’s dismissal of the case.
Bhopal has become famous as the site of the 1984 toxic gas leak that claimed the lives of over 5,000 Indian citizens. Almost 30 years later, the community is still plagued by toxic waste seeping into the groundwater and poisoning local water supplies. The extensive contamination is causing birth defects, neurological disorders, and increased cancer rates in the area.
From a law student’s perspective it is a rare and exciting opportunity just to be in a Second Circuit courtroom, listening to well-crafted arguments and the concerns of highly regarded judges. But it was also particularly enriching on a personal level. Human rights and environmental protection are the precise issues that brought me to law school. Getting the chance to sit in and observe the arguments in an important case concerning corporate liability for harms felt in Bhopal was an invaluable learning experience.
During the four-hour bus ride, we scrambled to put together copies of every case cited in the briefs into a binder, flagged specific pages cited with tabs, and highlighted quoted text, just in case Rick would need it during his argument. Papers, highlighters, binders, and red, green, and blue tabs were everywhere and we definitely drew a few curious stares from fellow travelers as we awkwardly negotiated the narrow space on the bus. . . .