Judge dismisses attempt to revive reparations suit filed by slave descendants
by Mike Robinson
July 7, 2005
An effort by slave descendants to revive their quest for reparations from corporations that allegedly benefited from slavery was dismissed Wednesday by a federal judge who said the issue is political and should be decided by the legislative or executive branch.
Judge Charles R. Norgle also said the plaintiffs have failed to show a link between themselves and the 17 corporations named as defendants and that in any case the statute of limitations rules out damages for wrongs committed before slavery was abolished in 1868.
It was the second time Norgle dismissed a version of the slave reparations suit and this time he did it with prejudice – meaning that any hopes of reviving it at the District Court level most likely are dead.
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"Plaintiffs' attempt to bring these claims more than a century after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery fails," Norgle said in his 104-page decision.
Norgle based his decision in part on "the long-standing and well-reasoned" doctrine holding that issues which are basically political should be resolved in a political realm, such as Congress or the executive branch, rather than in the courts.
He said the slavery reparations issue historically has been fought in the executive and legislative branches.
If the suit is kept alive, the next step would be an appeal to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney Benjamin Obi Nwoye said he and fellow lawyers who have worked on the suit are disappointed by Norgle's decision and that such an appeal is on the way.
"We don't agree with his reasoning," he said. "We are hopeful that we will get justices who are fair-minded so the descendants of slaves can be repaid for the work of their forefathers."
Attorneys for the slave descendants say they want to use any damages to create a fund that would be administered under court supervision to help correct problems in the black community.
Norgle said that "it is beyond debate that slavery has caused tremendous suffering and ineliminable scars throughout our nation's history."
"No reasonable person can fail to recognize the malignant impact, in body and spirit, on millions of human beings held as slaves in the United States," he said. But he added that the struggle to free slaves came about only through major sacrifices made by other Americans.
"Union soldiers, sailors and Marines gave their lives on bloody battlefields and the sea to maintain one sovereign nation in which slavery would be eradicated," he said. "The impact of this struggle on the families of the wounded and the dead was immeasurable and lasting. The victorious and the vanquished together shared the cup of suffering." AP