High Court Rebuffs Genocide Case


By Bob Egelko

SAN FRANCISCO (San Francisco Chronicle) — The US Supreme Court refused on Monday to revive a California law that would allow heirs of victims of the Armenian Genocide to sue in state courts for unpaid insurance benefits.

The law, passed in 2000, was struck down in February 2012 by a federal appeals court, which said California was intruding into sensitive foreign policy questions that were the exclusive domain of the federal government.

The law “was intended to send a political message on an issue of foreign affairs” and “imposes the politically charged label of ‘genocide,’” the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals said in an 11-0 ruling. The ruling dismissed a class-action suit filed in 2003 by several hundred Armenian Americans against a German insurance company and two subsidiaries.

The high court denied review of the ruling without comment Monday.

The appeals court ruling was one of a series of decisions that have barred California and other states from allowing victims of decades-old foreign atrocities, like the Nazi Holocaust and the use of slave labor by the Japanese military, to seek redress in their courts.

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As many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. The California law would have allowed descendants of Armenians killed or deported during that period, or of anyone who escaped to avoid persecution, to sue insurers until the end of 2013, long after the normal deadlines would have expired.

In urging the Supreme Court to take up the case, state Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office said the appeals court’s ruling “allows judicial censorship of state legislation because of the potential offense of foreign officials.”

The Obama administration endorsed the appellate ruling and asked the Supreme Court to deny review. President Obama condemns the Armenian killings in annual speeches but has refrained from describing them as a genocide.

The case is Arzoumanian vs. Munchener Ruckversicherung, 12-9.


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