- California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Rhode Island assert right of states to pass laws referring to the Armenian Genocide
- California state and federal legislators submit amicus brief defending California’s laws on the Armenian Genocide
WASHINGTON—The Armenian National Committee of America welcomed this week the submission of two amicus briefs, filed by the states of California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Rhode Island, and also by leading California state and federal legislative representatives, defending the rights of states to pass laws, referring to the Armenian Genocide.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris was joined by the attorneys general of Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada and Rhode Island, David Louie, Martha Coakley, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Peter Kilmartin respectively in defending California’s and other states’ rights to enact legislation referring to the Armenian Genocide. The Attorneys General argued that “[a]llowing the federal government to dictate to the states the words they may and may not use . . . raises a serious issue of federalism.” They also noted that in contrast to other cases preempting state laws, “here no treaty, congressional resolution or executive agreement establishes a federal foreign policy that conflicts with, or displaces” the California statute at hand.
California state and federal legislators, in their separate amicus brief submitted Tuesday, noted that “there is no precedent for holding a state statute preempted merely because of the terminology that it uses.” To do so would render the foreign affairs doctrine “beyond recognition.” They also assert that unlike other California statutes concerning Holocaust-era or World War II slave labor claims, which have been struck down, “there is no federal action to negotiate an international compensation regime for claims related to the Armenian Genocide.” The amicus brief was filed on behalf of U.S. Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Ed Royce (R-CA); Speaker of the California State Assembly John Perez (D-46); Majority Leader of the California State Assembly Charles Calderon (D-58); California State Senators Kevin de León (D-22) and S. Joseph Simitian (D-11), and; California State Assembly Members Katcho Achadjian (R-33), Mike Gatto (D-43), and Anthony Portantino (D-44). Former Supreme Court clerk Igor Timofeyev of the international law firm Paul Hastings represented the California legislators pro bono.
“This case represents an opportunity for the Court to affirm the rights of Armenian Americans to seek justice in connection to unpaid Genocide-era insurance policies, and, more broadly, to help ensure that states have the right to regulate corporations that wrongfully deny the property rights of their citizens,” explained ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian, who has helped coordinate community response to this issue.
The Ninth Circuit case Movsesian v. Versicherung AG involves life insurance claims dating from the Armenian Genocide era. In 2000, California passed a law, which extended the statute of limitations for life insurance claims that were never paid out, in some cases because insurance companies insisted heirs produce death certificates of relatives, who were murdered during the Armenian Genocide, before honoring the policies. The California statute, which was introduced by former State Senator and current Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal Charles ‘Chuck’ Poochigian and former State Senator and current Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), allowed California residents to file until December 31, 2010. The law has since been amended through legislation introduced by State Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-43), extending the statute of limitations to file claims until December 31, 2016. Defendant German insurance companies have been joined by the Republic of Turkey in their attempts to strike down California’s law, claiming there is an “express federal policy” to prohibit states from any reference to the Armenian Genocide.
A year ago, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld California’s law, but the Ninth Circuit has agreed to rehear the case “en banc,” meaning that eleven judges from the panel will now hear the case.
Oral arguments will be held on Wednesday morning, December 14, in San Francisco. Mark Geragos and Lee Crawford Boyd will be presenting on behalf of heirs to Armenian Genocide era life insurance policy holders and lawyers from Mayer Brown LLP will be representing the German insurance companies involved in this case.
Earlier in the case, the Armenian Bar Association, Armenian National Committee of America, Zoryan Institute for Contemporary Armenian Research and Documentation, Inc., the International Association of Genocide Scholars, Genocide Education Project,
Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, and Center for the Study of Law and Genocide filed amicus briefs and were represented “pro bono” by David Balabanian and David Salmons, both partners at the international firm Bingham McCutchen.
Amicus briefs in support of plaintiffs have also been submitted by Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), EarthRights International, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Claims for unpaid life insurance policies dating back to the Armenian Genocide were first brought by plaintiff’s attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan. Attorneys representing plaintiffs include Brian Kabateck, Mark Geragos, and Lee Crawford Boyd.