[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

NEWS - U.S. court hears appeal of M

Subject: NEWS - U.S. court hears appeal of Massachusetts Burma law

U.S. court hears appeal of Massachusetts Burma law

By Leslie Gevirtz

BOSTON, May 4 (Reuters) - Can one U.S. state have its own foreign

The U.S. appeals court in Boston wrestled with that issue on Tuesday as
Massachusetts argued its 1996 law penalizing
companies doing business with Myanmar was constitutional. A district
court struck down the law in November

``Massachusetts is trying to make foreign policy here,'' declared
Timothy Dyk, a lawyer for the Washington. D.C.-based
National Foreign Trade Council.

Some 324 of the council's 580 business members claim to be affected by
the selective purchase law, which effectively bars firms that do
business with
Myanmar from doing business with Massachusetts and its state agencies.

The state spends about $2 billion annually on goods and services from
the private sector. The Massachusetts law adds 10 percent to any bids
from companies that do business in Myanmar.

The law has been the subject of intense talks between Washington, Japan
and the European Union. The EU has filed a complaint with the World
Organization, which is awaiting the decision by the U.S. Appeals Court.

Sandra Lynch, the head of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
three-member panel, said at the start of proceedings, ``We all agree
human rights in the
country formerly known as Burma are deplorable.''

But the complex legal issues involved are whether Massachusetts
infringed on the federal government's right to make foreign policy,
Lynch said.

The legislation is crafted after similar laws passed in Massachusetts
and other states and countries during the 1980s that were aimed at
ending apartheid in
South Africa.

Numerous friend-of-the-court briefs were filed by unions, 10 state
attorneys general, congressmen and senators from both sides of the
aisle, the National
Association of Manufacturers and other business groups.

But the one player most directly affected, the U.S. government, chose
not to file any motions with the court.

Assistant Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Barnico noted the U.S.
Congress passed similar sanctions against Myanmar a year after
and chose not to override the state's law.

In the courthouse overlooking Boston harbor, where the first
Massachusetts boycott of British tea took place more than more than 200
years ago, Barnico
argued the state is not regulating conduct, but instead choosing how to
spend its taxpayers' dollars.

``We've taken a stand that says at bottom whom we will deal with. If you
reject (this appeal) we will be compelled to do business with these
people,'' Barnico
told the court. 

    The appeals court's decision is expected in two to three