Supreme Court rules Iraq sovereign immunity applies to Saddam-era allegations

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] issued opinions in five cases on Monday. In Republic of Iraq v. Beaty [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] and Iraq v. Simon, the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] that Iraq has sovereign immunity from US court jurisdiction in cases alleging mistreatment during the Saddam Hussein regime, at which time the country was designated as a sponsor of terrorism. At issue was the ability of the president to waive sections of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) [28 USC § 1602 et seq. text], which create exceptions to the general rule that states cannot be sued in US courts for states designated as sponsors of terrorism. In May 2003, then-US President George W. Bush used a provision of the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act (EWSAA) [HR 1559 text] to waive the applicability of the FSIA "state sponsor" exception to Iraq. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which found in both Beaty and Simon [opinions, PDF] that the waiver of the FSIA exception was meant only to apply to future allegations, and therefore allowed Saddam-era suits to proceed. The Court said that the waiver was meant to restore sovereign immunity to Iraq in its entirety, and should therefore apply prospectively and retroactively to all suits against the country:

When the President exercised his authority to make inapplicable with respect to Iraq all provisions of law that apply to countries that have supported terrorism, the exception to foreign sovereign immunity for state sponsors of terrorism became inoperative as against Iraq. As a result, the courts below lacked jurisdiction.
Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the opinion of a unanimous court.

In Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 that the decision by West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals [official website] Justice Brent Benjamin [official profile] not to recuse himself from a case involving a major campaign contributor violated the due process [Cornell LII backgrounder] rights of the plaintiff in the case. The Court pointed out that the CEO of A.T. Massey [corporate website], the defendant in a fraud case before Benjamin's court, generated $3 million in campaign donations, which was "more than the total amount spent by all other Benjamin supporters and three times the amount spent by Benjamin’s own committee." The Court said that:
The facts now before us are extreme by any measure. The parties point to no other instance involving judicial campaign contributions that presents a potential for bias comparable to the circumstances in this case. ... [E]xtreme cases are more likely to cross constitutional limits, requiring this Court’s intervention and formulation of objective standards. This is particularly true when due process is violated.
Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Scalia and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Scalia also filed a separate dissent.

In Boyle v. United States [JURIST report], the Court ruled [opinion] 7-2 that an organization does not need to have an "ascertainable structure beyond that inherent in the pattern of racketeering activity in which it engages" to be considered an "enterprise" within the meaning of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act [text, 18 USC § 1961(4)] (RICO). The petitioner, who was convicted of burglary and conspiracy under RICO, argued that RICO required an organization separate from that necessary to carry out the predicate act. The Court rejected this argument, finding that the trial judge did not err in instructing the jury that "the existence of an association-in-fact is oftentimes more readily proven by what it does, rather than by abstract analysis of its structure" and accepted the government's broad interpretation of the statutory definition of "enterprise" under RICO.

In US ex rel. Eisenstein v. City of New York [JURIST report], the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously that the US is not a party to a qui tam action unless it brings the case or "it has exercised its right to intervene in the case." Eisenstein and four other New York City employees sued the city in a qui tam action, alleging that the city violated the False Claims Act [text] by imposing a fee on non-resident city employees. They filed an appeal with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 54 days after a district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim, after the usual 30-day time limit for civil suits, but within the 60-day limit used when the US is a party to the suit. In an opinion by Thomas, the Court found that, since the US is not a "party" to Eisenstein's suit, the appeal was untimely.

In United States v. Denedo [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 that the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces (CAAF) and the Navy-Marine Corp Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA) [official websites] have jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of error coram nobis [backgrounder] from an earlier NMCCA judgment. The case involves a Nigerian national who enlisted in the US Navy and later pleaded guilty on larceny charges. After he was discharged from the Navy, deportation proceedings began on the basis of the conviction. Denedo asked the NMCCA and CAAF to set aside the earlier judgment because his counsel had told him that his plea would not affect his immigration status. The Court found that the NMCCA has jurisdiction over an error petition on its own ruling, and the CAAF has appellate jurisdiction over decisions of the NMCCA. Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court. Roberts delivered an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Scalia, Thomas, and Alito joined.


 

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