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Ninth Circuit strikes down California law allowing 'Armenian genocide' victims to sue

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a California state law that allows descendants of victims of the Armenian Genocide [ANI backgrounder] to sue in state courts for unpaid insurance benefits is unconstitutional. The court found that California Civil Procedure Code § 354.4 [text] "interferes with the national government's conduct of foreign relations" because the federal government has declined to describe the World War I-era killings of over one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers as genocide. The court concluded:

California Code of Civil Procedure § 354.4 is preempted because it directly conflicts with the Executive Branch's foreign policy refusing to provide official recognition to the "Armenian Genocide." Far from concerning an area of traditional state interest, § 354.4 impinges upon the National Government's ability to conduct foreign affairs.

The lawsuit was brought by a California citizen of Armenian descent who initiated a class action suit against insurance companies, alleging they had failed to pay benefits. The plaintiff's lawyer said he plans to appeal [San Francisco Chronicle report] the ruling.

In October 2007, the US House of Representatives delayed action [JURIST report] on a resolution [H Res 106 materials] that would have labeled the 1915-1918 killings as genocide, a decision that was welcomed [JURIST report] by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [BBC profile]. The proposed legislation was approved by the House Foreign Relations Committee and had been expected to reach the floor [JURIST reports] before Congress recessed for the year. Then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had told Congress that the resolution could "severely harm" US-Turkish relations [JURIST report]. Turkey has long objected [JURIST comment] to any attempts to classify the 1915 Armenian killings as genocide. Several other countries - including France, Canada and Argentina - have nonetheless passed laws or resolutions [BBC backgrounder] to that effect. The Obama administration's position on the matter has not been made clear.

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