SUPREME COURT

Heirs to Jewish art dealers lose fight at Supreme Court

Unanimous ruling rejects use of U.S. courts to press claims of forced sale prior to WWII

In a unanimous ruling, the justices said U.S. courts can't be used to pursue claims that a foreign country's citizens suffered financial damages through the taking of property by their own government

.uspg
US PRESS GROUP

The Supreme Court delivered a major defeat Wednesday to the heirs of Jewish German art dealers in a lawsuit claiming a famous collection of religious relics was effectively stripped from them as the Nazis came to power in the 1930s.

Many of the relics now sit in a government-owned museum in Germany, so the heirs sued the German government seeking $250 million.

But, in a unanimous ruling, the justices said U.S. courts can't be used to pursue claims that a foreign country's citizens suffered financial damages through the taking of property by their own government.
Lawyers for the heirs contended that the owners of the collection — a trove known as the Welfenschatz which dates to the Holy Roman Empire — were forced to sell it at fire-sale prices as Nazi coercion and harassment of Jews intensified prior to World War II.

The heirs argued the sales were part of genocide under international law because they were essentially an early stage of the Holocaust in which six million Jews were eventually killed.

However, Chief Justice John Roberts rejected the argument, saying the dispute was better viewed as one over taking of property than of genocide. Foreign governments are generally immune from suits in the U.S., but the exemption is nullified for acts that violate international law, such as genocide.

"We do not look to the law of genocide to determine if we have jurisdiction over the heirs’ common law property claims. We look to the law of property," Roberts wrote.

Roberts also said the court would be risking retaliation against the U.S. by allowing this sort of suit.

"As a Nation, we would be surprised — and might even initiate reciprocal action — if a court in Germany adjudicated claims by Americans that they were entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars because of human rights violations committed by the United States Government years ago. There is no reason to anticipate that Germany’s reaction would be any different were American courts to exercise the jurisdiction claimed in this case," the chief justice wrote.

A German tribunal considered the heirs' claims and awarded no compensation, concluding that the sales in the 1930s were not made under duress.

While the Supreme Court decision is a major defeat for the heirs, it may not completely extinguish the case. The justices left open the possibility that the heirs could pursue an argument that those who sold the collection were not German citizens at the time. That would make the dispute an international one, which might leave a role for U.S. courts.

In other action Wednesday, the justices agreed to the new Biden administration's requests to put off arguments in two immigration-related cases that were set to be argued in the coming weeks.

The court announced that it is setting aside for now the disputes over the legality of funding for President Donald Trump's trademark wall project along the border with Mexico and over an asylum policy Trump instituted known as "Remain in Mexico," that requires most asylum applicants making claims at U.S. border stations to return to Mexico to await hearings.

The Biden administration has suspended the border wall expansion and is no longer enrolling asylum applicants in the controversial program involving asylum hearings at the border. However, the latter shift appears to be largely symbolic for now, since coronavirus-related limits on foreigners entering the U.S. are still in place.

Read more

Supreme Court declines to shield Trump's tax returns from Manhattan DA

Donald Trump blasted a Supreme Court ruling on Monday that paved the way for a New York City prosecutor to obtain his tax returns and other financial records as part of a criminal investigation, a blow to his quest to conceal details of his finances. 'This investigation is a continuation of the greatest political Witch Hunt in the history of our Country,' begins the missive, sent out from the Office of Donald J. Trump. The nearly-400 word statement, clearly dictated by Trump himself, brings back a litany of past complaints by the former president: calling the investigation a 'witch hunt,' blasting former special counsel Robert Mueller, and falsely claiming he won the election.

Supreme Court refuses quick action on last-ditch Trump election lawsuits

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected efforts by President Donald Trump and his allies to get the court to quickly consider challenges to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election, effectively shutting the door on the president’s last-ditch legal strategy to overturn his defeat.

Supreme Court rejects Texas suit seeking to subvert election

The Supreme Court rejected an audacious lawsuit by Texas that had asked the court to throw out the presidential election results in four battleground states captured by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. The court, in a brief unsigned order, said Texas lacked standing to pursue the case, saying it “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.” The move, coupled with a one-sentence order on Tuesday turning away a similar request from Pennsylvania Republicans, signaled that the court has refused to be drawn into President Trump’s losing campaign to overturn the results of the election last month.

Supreme Court rejects second GOP effort

The Supreme Court on Thursday denied a Republican bid to block a mail-ballot extension in North Carolina, a day after rejecting a similar GOP effort in the key battleground state. The court's three most conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito — would have granted the Republican request. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the bench Tuesday, took no part in considering the case.