- Co-founder of the Christic Institute
- Represented leaders of the New York Black Panther Party in 1970
- Worked on the landmark “Pentagon Papers” case
- Served as assistant New York State campaign director for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential run
- Supported Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign
Daniel Peter Sheehan is a longtime attorney, public speaker, educator, and author. Born in Glens Falls, New York in 1946, he began his undergraduate education at Northeastern University in 1962. He later transferred to Harvard College, graduating in 1967 with a degree in American Government. In 1970 Sheehan earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School, where he co-founded and co-edited The Harvard Civil Rights Law Review.
After finishing law school, Sheehan was hired as an associate First Amendment counsel by the Wall Street law firm of Cahill, Gordon, Sonnett, Reindel & Ohl, where he initiated and litigated such cases as: (a) the 1971-72 Eisenstadt v. Baird case that established, before the United States Supreme Court, the right of unmarried persons to access to birth-control information and devices; (b) the 1972 Branzburg v. Hayes case which established that American journalists had a right to protect the identity of their confidential news sources from grand juries; and (c) the landmark 1971 “Pentagon Papers” case — New York Times v. United States — which established that both The New York Times and The Washington Post had a right to publish a classified document regarding America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Also while in Cahill‘s employ, Sheehan served as legal counsel to inmates in the Western New York-based Attica Correctional Facility, the scene of an infamous prisoner riot in September 1971. Moreover, Sheehan was a pro bono associate trial counsel (in State v. Byrd) for 21 leaders of the New York Black Panther Party who in 1970 were accused of plotting to assassinate police officers and blow up buildings.
Sheehan left Cahill in 1972 and accepted a position with the Democratic National Committee as the assistant New York State campaign director for George McGovern’s presidential run.
In 1973 Sheehan enrolled in a graduate study program in Comparative Social Ethics at Harvard Divinity School. Following the February 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by American Indian Movement (AIM) activists, he took a temporary leave of absence from school in order to accept a job offer from the American Civil Liberties Union, where he was named legal counsel for the ACLU’s Native American Rights Committee. In 1974, Sheehan served as amicus curiae in the eight-month-long Wounded Knee Trials of AIM leaders. He returned to Harvard Divinity School in 1974, and by 1975 he had completed all his requirements for both a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D in the field of Christian Social Ethics and Comparative Ethics.
In 1975 Sheehan began a ten-year stint as general counsel to the United States Jesuit Order’s National Office of Social Ministry (in Washington, D.C.), where he worked closely with Father William J. Davis, who connected Sheehan with numerous leaders of America’s major religious and progressive movements.
Meanwhile, the trajectory of Sheehan’s legal career continued to climb:
- He served as special counsel to criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey’s law firm during its 1973 representation of Watergate Burglary witness James McCord – the man who “blew the whistle” on Richard Nixon and his associates; Sheehan subsequently served as special counsel in United States v. George Gordon Liddy, et al. (1975), the Watergate case which was heard by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
- In the 1974 case of Morton v. Mancari, Sheehan defended the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs’ interpretation of what the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, the Fifth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment required vis-a-vis hiring and promotion practices.
- In 1975 he served as legal counsel to the Rockefeller Commission, which oversaw the Knapp Commission’s investigation into corruption by the New York Police Department.
- As Chief Counsel in Jewish Defense League v. New York Times Co., Sheehan successfully defended the Times‘s First Amendment right to not publish a paid advertisement condemning orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein.
- In re: Slaughterhouse Five, he drafted and filed a District Court complaint aimed at overturning a North Dakota school district’s decision to ban and burn Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five, and to fire the teacher who had assigned it.
- In re: Last Tango in Paris, Sheehan successfully defended the 1973 United Artists film Last Tango in Paris against obscenity charges brought by the State of Idaho.
- In Associated Student Body v. University of Wyoming, he defended the First Amendment right of the University of Wyoming Student Body to select — without censorship by the administration — which motion pictures should be presented at student events.
- In re: Dr. Rufus Lyman, Sheehan represented the chairman of the University of Idaho Life Sciences Department in a federal Civil Rights Act lawsuit, securing the client’s reinstatement following his dismissal for having publicly condemned a committee that was investigating opponents of the University’s president.
- In re: Starr, he defended University of Colorado students against federal criminal charges that had been filed against them for attending the public funeral of an American Indian Movement member killed at Wounded Knee.
- In United States v. Berrigan, Sheehan served as defense counsel for anti-war activists Daniel Berrigan and Phillip Berrigan, who both stood accused of burning Selective Service records in protest of the Vietnam War.
At the request of President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, Sheehan acted as a special consultant to the United States Library of Congress’s investigation into the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. In this role, Sheehan presented — to leading scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — a closed-door seminar on the “Theological Implications of Contact.”
In 1977, Sheehan — along with Father William J. Davis and National Organization for Women Labor Secretary Sara Nelson (whom Sheehan would later marry) — gathered in Washington, D.C. to lay the groundwork for their 1980 founding of the Christic Institute, where Sheehan went on to serve as general counsel for twelve years.
In the early 1980s, Sheehan was an endorser of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, a Soviet-sponsored initiative that sought to freeze in place the USSR’s nuclear and military superiority over the United States.
Around that same time, Sheehan, Davis, and Nelson were preparing to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the surviving children of the late Karen Silkwood, a Kerr-McGee Nuclear Power Company chemical technician who had died in 1974 from contamination by radioactive plutonium. In their historic 1983-84 suit — Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp. — chief counsel Sheehan and his allies prevailed. The Supreme Court upheld a jury’s $10.5 million judgment against the company and effectively ended the construction of all new nuclear facilities in United States.
Sheehan and the Christic Institute also became involved in several additional high-profile cases including:
- PIRC v. Three Mile Island: Following the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Station’s core in 1979, Sheehan won a federal court order halting the release of nuclear effluents into the Susquehanna River.
- U.S. v. Stacey Lynn Merkt, et al. (1985): In support of the American Sanctuary Movement, Sheehan won a federal court order declaring unconstitutional a secret Reagan/Bush Administration executive order prohibiting political asylum for Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees.
- Waller v. Butkovich (1985): Sheehan won a $1 million judgement against the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, and the Greensboro Police Department for the first-degree murder of civil-rights demonstrators in 1979.
- Avirgan v. Hull (1992): This civil suit against 29 people who were involved in the Iran-Contra Affair, forced the appointment of an Independent Counsel to investigate the matter and prompted Senate hearings as well.
When the Christic Institute was shut down in 1992, Sheehan and Sara Nelson relocated to California where they continued Christic’s work under a new name, the Romero Institute.
In the 1990s Sheehan served as general counsel to the UFO Disclosure Project and the Institute For Cooperation In Space. He was also the attorney for Dr. John Mack, chairman of the Harvard Medical School’s Department of Clinical Psychology, in an academic-freedom case which was brought before the Harvard Faculty Committee after the publication of Mack’s controversial 1994 book, Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens.
In 1995, former Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev appointed Sheehan as director of the “Strategic Initiative to Identify the New Global Paradigm,” where Sheehan was tasked with trying to predict what movement “would replace anti-Communism and anti-capitalism as the primary new organizing principle for major global institutions after the Cold War.” In 1999, Sheehan became director of the New Paradigm Project at Gorbachev’s “State of the World Forum.” A year later, he was named director of the New Paradigm Institute for the Study of New World Views.
In 2001 Sheehan served as general counsel to The Disclosure Project, which coordinated the sworn testimony — before members of Congress — of former U.S. military officers, Federal Aviation Administration officials, and NASA employees attesting to direct personal knowledge of government information regarding UFOs and evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Sheehan also served as general counsel to the Institute For Cooperation In Space, a U.S. citizens’ group dedicated to banning space-based weapons.
In a 2003 interview during which he discussed the 9/11 hijackers, Sheehan said that “while we all uniformly condemn what they did, it’s important to keep a perspective on what it was they were responding to.” Specifically, he explained: “They had every reason in the world to know that this Bush administration … was in fact actively planning major military operations in the Middle East … So they planned and attempted to carry out what they thought was the most effective possible thing that they could do to try to blunt that type of military operation—which, of course, they failed to do …”
In continued pursuit of his longstanding quest to “expose the structural sources of injustice in our country and around the world,” Sheehan still serves as president and general counsel of the Romero Institute.