Conflicts of Interest Prevent Supreme Court from Hearing Apartheid Case

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it could not hear the appeal of American Isuzu Motors v. Ntsebeza from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, with 4 judges recusing themselves due to a conflict of interest. The case involves a variety of companies which did business in South Africa during apartheid, and with whom the 4 justices had either stock or personal connections. The plaintiffs, representing over 36,000 claimants, are suing the companies for violating the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act by “aiding and abetting the system of apartheid imposed by the former government of South Africa.” The act states:

“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

The court’s inability to hear the case assures that it will drag on in the courts; the defendants had hoped the Supreme Court would echo the decision of the Second Circuit, which threw out the case, arguing that the human rights decision could adversely affect international trade. Both the Bush administration and the current South African government support the defendant corporations, calling for cooperation and continued free trade.

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