Justices' recusals allow anti-apartheid suit to go forward

Legal News Line May 12, 2008, 1:25pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – A lawsuit will move forward against 33 companies that did business in South Africa during apartheid because the U.S. Supreme Court was unable to form a quorum. The class action lawsuit involves plaintiffs that had sued the companies that did business in South Africa during apartheid, including BP, Exxon, CitiBank, General Electric and IBM. The lawsuit seeks to hold the companies liable for allegedly being complicit in perpetuating oppression of the black majority in South Africa. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $400 billion from the companies, which also includes American Isuzu Motors Inc., a unit of Isuzu Motors Ltd., Ford Motor Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Honeywell International Inc., and 3M Co. Under federal law, judges may not participate in deciding cases if they, a spouse or minor child own stock in a company that is a party to a case. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer recused themselves because of stock holdings in several of the companies listed as defendants, while some believe Justice Anthony Kennedy may have recused himself because of his son's position at one of the companies. When the Court is unable to form a quorum a statute requires it to affirm the judgment of the lower court. The Second Circuit had held that claims under the Torture Victims Protection Act would be dismissed while claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act could go forward to trial, which is what will happen now. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had ruled on Oct. 12, 2007 that: "U.S. courts have jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Claims Act to hear certain tort claims brought by apartheid victims against companies that allegedly collaborated with the South African government in the maintenance of the regime." From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Lin Young at linyoung10@gmail.com.

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