Impossible burden
ZOA in the news
January 6, 2010

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There’s nothing “shocking” about the position that the Zionist Organization of America, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, the Orthodox Union, and Agudath Israel of America have taken in a case now pending before the Supreme Court, regarding whether foreign government officials should be immune from civil lawsuits for actions taken in their official capacities (“Lifting diplomatic immunity?” WJW, Dec. 17).

Federal law protects foreign governments — including their “agencies or instrumentalities” — from being sued civilly, except in clearly defined circumstances. The ZOA and others have endorsed the view of the majority of courts that have examined the issue, and have asked the Supreme Court to definitively decide that the law must protect not just foreign governments from civil suits, but also the officials who carry out government policies.


That position makes sense. A suit against a foreign official for his/her official acts is, practically speaking, a suit against the foreign government. The official should thus be entitled to the same protection from suit that the law bestows on his/her government.


That doesn’t mean that foreign officials have free rein to do whatever they want, without legal consequences. If officials act for their own personal or private reasons, outside the scope of their duties, then they would not be immune from suit.


To contend that foreign officials should be amenable to civil suits in “extremely heinous instances,” would place an impossible burden on our courts. They would be put in the unfeasible position of policing armed conflicts around the world — including those that may be long over — and determining whether the military force that was used had risen to a “heinous” level.


Our courts aren’t equipped to make those determinations.


SUSAN B. TUCHMAN


Director


Center for Law and Justice


Zionist Organization of America

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