Supreme Court hears cases on religious liberty and stolen painting
MarkThomas / Pixabay
Supreme Court hears cases on religious liberty and stolen painting

The Supreme Court Tuesday heard oral arguments in Shurtleff v. Boston and Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation. The first case concerns whether or not the city of Boston could deny the group’s application to fly their flag on city property. The second case, which involves an impressionist Camille Pissarro painting confiscated by Nazis in 1939, involves a complicated choice-of-law dispute.

In Shurtleff, the plaintiff is a representative from the religious and political group Camp Constitution. The group’s mission, according to their website, is to spread knowledge of the United States’ “Judeo-Christian moral heritage” and “free enterprise” throughout history. The city of Boston allows for groups to submit applications to have their flag flown outside of city hall. However, when Camp Constitution submitted an application, it was denied. The city claimed that raising the flag, which featured a Christian cross, was tantamount to endorsing a particular religious position.

Camp Constitution argues that the city of Boston has turned the flag pole into a public forum and cannot discriminate because the group is religiously affiliated. Some argue that the Court is likely to side with Camp Constitution. The majority conservative Court has shown a tendency to side with plaintiffs who bring cases focused on religious liberty. However, the Court will have to parse through complicated First Amendment precedent in making their decision.

In Cassirer, the Court must determine which set of laws to apply when determining who the rightful owner of the stolen painting is. Under Spanish law, where the painting is currently on display, the museum would likely retain the title as a good faith purchaser. However, the Court must determine whether or not to apply Spanish law or the laws of the forum state of the lawsuit. California law differs in that it does not allow for thieves to transfer title, even to an individual who does not know the item was stolen. Therefore, the ownership of the painting may hinge on whether Spanish or California law controls it.