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15 lawmakers back Massachusetts app
- Subject: 15 lawmakers back Massachusetts app
- From: sbillenness@xxxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 05 Feb 1999 20:10:00
Subject: 15 lawmakers back Massachusetts appeal
15 lawmakers back Massachusetts appeal
The bipartisan House group signed a friend-of the-court brief supporting
the state's sanctions against Myanmar.
BY MICHAEL S. LELYVELD
JOURNAL OF COMMERCE
February 5, 1999
At least 15 House members, including Minority Whip David Bonior, are
backing Massachusetts in a federal appeal to uphold the state's sanctions
aimed at Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
The bipartisan group organized by Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Dennis
Kucinich, D-Ohio, has signed a friend-of-the-court brief that is expected
to be filed Friday with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Earlier, a District Court struck down the sanctions law as unconstitutional.
The debate over state powers to enact selective purchasing laws intensified
this week as the staff of House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.,
also contacted the White House, urging the administration to stay out of
Officials say the Justice Department is studying plans to submit a brief
opposing the Massachusetts sanctions as an infringement on federal powers
to conduct foreign policy.
Both sides view the involvement of Congress as significant in a controversy
that has already drawn in eight states, the European Union, Japan and the
World Trade Organization, as well as multinational corporations.
The fight is over a 1996 law that bars Massachusetts public contracts with
companies that do business with military-ruled Myanmar.
The Washington-based National Foreign Trade Council, representing
corporations, sued Massachusetts last April, hoping to set a precedent that
would knock out all "subfederal" sanctions. The trade group won the case in
federal District Court in November, but the state appealed.
At the same time, the EU and Japan have complained to the WTO that the
Myanmar exclusion violates a U.S. pact on open bidding. The EU filed a
brief last year supporting the trade council's case. States, including New
York and California, are expected to file Friday in support of Massachusetts.
Last May, Rep. Gephardt wrote to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,
asking the administration not to support the trade council's arguments in
District Court. Mr. Gephardt's office renewed those efforts this week
following reports that the administration might enter the appeals case.
The White House is said to be debating whether it should pursue the
constitutional issue in a case involving a regime as unpopular as that of
Myanmar. President Clinton has imposed federal sanctions against the
country that bar any new investment by U.S. firms.
The legal issues may eventually go to the Supreme Court, but the political
implications may be even more complex.
The Massachusetts side has attracted forces ranging from human rights
advocates to those who believe in state powers, a political position once
infamously known as states rights.
Others who distrust the WTO as an intruder on U.S. independent trade policy
are also being drawn to the state's side.
The administration is split because it has been hemmed in by an increasing
number of unilateral sanctions, a problem that may only be aggravated by
cities and states. The EU also has been embarrassed in fighting the
sanctions, while the European Parliament keeps pushing for tougher
penalties against Myanmar.
Oral arguments in the appeal are set to be heard in May.