Blind trusts will improve blind justice in the high court
They could help avoid judicial conflicts of interest.
For justice to be blind, the nine justices of the US Supreme Court need to have blind trusts.Skip to next paragraph
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An embarrassing situation arose in May when the high court affirmed a US Court of Appeals ruling permitting a landmark $400 billion lawsuit, American Isuzu Motors v. Ntsebeza, to proceed because four Supreme Court justices had conflicts of interest involving the plaintiff companies and had to recuse themselves from the case.
The result was a setback to dozens of multinational corporations being sued in federal court for allegedly aiding and abetting South Africa's apartheid regime because they did business there when its abhorrent system of racial segregation was in place.
If the suit eventually prevails, it could threaten America's currently fragile economy by opening the door to lawsuits against other US firms that operated in countries whose rulers imposed unjust sanctions against their citizens.
The US, British, German, Swiss, and South African governments had urged the Supreme Court to accept the case and overturn the lower court's ruling.
South Africa feared that a victory by the plaintiffs' lawyers would dry up desperately needed foreign investment and hurt the ongoing effort for racial reconciliation.
Indeed, South African President Thabo Mbeki – Nelson Mandela's handpicked successor – called the lawsuit a clear example of "judicial imperialism."
The Bush administration, in its brief, argued that the lawsuit "would interfere with the ability of the US government to employ the full range of foreign policy options" when interacting with regimes the US would like to influence to adopt democratic reforms.
It said such policies "would be greatly undermined" if the corporations that invest or operate in a foreign country are subjected to lawsuits more properly aimed at the offending regimes themselves.
The Justice Department contends that current US tort law allows suits against the South African government, but not against US and foreign companies doing business there when the repressive policies were in place.
The personal injury lawyers filing the suit appear likely to receive the lion's share of any damage awards in the case.
They charge that the companies are guilty of helping support apartheid merely because they did business in South Africa during the 46 years its legalized system of racial segregation was in place – an accusation the current black-majority government of the country strongly refutes.