Andrew Stern, myway.com, Jan. 26
CHICAGO (Reuters) — A federal judge Monday dismissed a lawsuit demanding reparations from companies accused of profiting from American slavery, suggesting the issue belongs in the U.S. Congress and not his courtroom.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle, in a 75-page opinion, dismissed the lawsuit “without prejudice,” leaving open a possible refiling of the case in light of his ruling.
“These suits are not going to go away. If this society is going to go forward … this will have to be decided in a courtroom,” said Roger Wareham, a New York attorney who filed one of several lawsuits consolidated in Chicago on behalf of descendants of slaves.
Norgle’s ruling appeared to undermine the arguments of reparations proponents. He said the plaintiffs’ do not have the right to sue on behalf of their dead slave ancestors, that the issue is no longer timely, and that the issue is not a legal question but a political one.
“In summary, plaintiffs’ attempt to bring these claims more than a century after the end of the Civil War and the formal abolition of slavery fails,” he wrote, citing precedents such as a California court ruling in a similar case.
“Some may view this ruling as a condonation of ancient wrongs. That view is wrong. To suggest that the lions have won again and that the court is impervious to human suffering at the core of this case would be absurd,” he said.
Norgle also ruled against a plaintiffs’ motion that he step aside. The motion alleged Norgle was prejudiced because of past ties to one of the defendant companies and that he had said previously he does not believe in broad remedies for large classes of people.
Among the other defendants in the suit, which frequently cites the companies’ 19th Century predecessors, were banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase, railroads including Union Pacific Corp., and insurers such as Aetna Inc.
Some date the long-standing issue of slave reparations for American blacks to broken Civil War-era promises to give every freed slave “40 acres and a mule.” It has been likened to Jews winning compensation for the Holocaust and Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II.
But proponents, more than 100 of whom crowded into Norgle’s courtroom, said the issues in question were unprecedented and deal with modern era discrimination.
The debate over slave reparations has been laid out by such authors as Raymond Winbush in “Should America Pay?”
A parallel effort by black Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers to create a commission to study reparations for slavery has not gone far. Last year, Chicago’s City Council required corporations to reveal their past ties to slavery.
Proponents of reparations say that any compensation from the suits or settlements could be used to fund an education trust fund for blacks.