The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Friday reversed [opinion, PDF] its prior decision and allowed a suit by the heirs of victims of the Armenian genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to proceed. The court decided 2-1 to withdraw its August ruling [JURIST report], which found California Civil Procedure Code § 354.4 [text] unconstitutional because it interfered with foreign relations by recognizing the World War I-era killings of more than one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers as a genocide. The court rejected arguments that the US has an official policy of not recognizing the killings as a genocide. The court pointed to Congress recognizing a day of remembrance for the incident and statements by the executive branch that have described the incident as genocide. 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. Most historians recognize [San Francisco Chronicle report] the incident as a genocide, but Turkey has urged the US not to do so.
The Armenian genocide remains a contentious issue in US law and politics. In August, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] unanimously dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the exclusion of materials questioning the Armenian genocide from a school curriculum. In March, the Obama administration announced its opposition to a resolution [JURIST report] labeling the World War I-era killings as genocide. The announcement came after the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs passed the resolution [JURIST report] by a vote of 23-22. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdogan condemned the resolution, and the Turkish government recalled its ambassador to the US.