American Ins. Assn. v. Garamendi
Annotate this Case
539 U.S. 396 (2003)
OCTOBER TERM, 2002
AMERICAN INSURANCE ASSOCIATION ET AL. v.
GARAMENDI, INSURANCE COMMISSIONER, STATE OF CALIFORNIA
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 02-722. Argued April 23, 2003-Decided June 23, 2003
The Nazi Government of Germany confiscated the value or proceeds of many Jewish life insurance policies issued before and during the Second World War. After the war, even a policy that had escaped confiscation was likely to be dishonored, whether because insurers denied its existence or claimed it had lapsed from unpaid premiums, or because the German Government would not provide heirs with documentation of the policyholder's death. Responsibility as between the government and insurance companies is disputed, but the fact is that the proceeds of many insurance policies issued to Jews before and during the war were paid to the Third Reich or never paid at all. These confiscations and frustrations of claims fell within the subject of reparations, which became a principal object of Allied diplomacy after the war. Ultimately, the western Allies placed the obligation to provide restitution to victims of Nazi persecution on the new West German Government, which enacted restitution laws and signed agreements with other countries for the compensation of their nationals. Despite a payout of more than 100 billion deutsch marks as of 2000, however, these measures left out many claimants and certain types of claims. After German reunification, class actions for restitution poured into United States courts against companies doing business in Germany during the Nazi era. Protests by defendant companies and their governments prompted the United States Government to take action to try to resolve the matter. Negotiations at the national level produced the German Foundation Agreement, in which Germany agreed to establish a foundation funded with 10 billion deutsch marks contributed equally by the German Government and German companies to compensate the companies' victims during the Nazi era. The President agreed that whenever a German company was sued on a Holocaust-era claim in an American court, the Government would (1) submit a statement that it would be in this country's foreign policy interests for the foundation to be the exclusive forum and remedy for such claims, and (2) try to get state and local governments to respect the foundation as the exclusive mechanism. As for insurance claims in particular, both countries agreed that the German
Foundation would work with the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC), a voluntary organization whose mission is to negotiate with European insurers to provide information about and settlement of unpaid insurance policies, and which has set up procedures to that end. The German agreement has served as a model for similar agreements with Austria and France.
Meanwhile, California began its own enquiry into the issue, prompting state legislation designed to force payment by defaulting insurers. Among other laws, California's Holocaust Victim Insurance Relief Act of 1999 (HVIRA) requires any insurer doing business in the State to disclose information about all policies sold in Europe between 1920 and 1945 by the company or anyone "related" to it upon penalty of loss of its state business license. After HVIRA was enacted, the State issued administrative subpoenas against several subsidiaries of European insurance companies participating in the ICHEIC. Immediately, the Federal Government informed California officials that HVIRA would damage the ICHEIC, the only effective means to process quickly and completely unpaid Holocaust era insurance claims, and that HVIRA would possibly derail the German Foundation Agreement. Nevertheless, the state insurance commissioner announced that he would enforce HVIRA to its fullest. Petitioner insurance entities then filed this suit challenging HVIRA's constitutionality. The District Court issued a preliminary injunction against enforcing HVIRA and later granted petitioners summary judgment. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding, inter alia, that HVIRA did not violate the federal foreign affairs power.
Held: California's HVIRA interferes with the President's conduct of the Nation's foreign policy and is therefore preempted. Pp.413-429.
(a) There is no question that at some point an exercise of state power that touches on foreign relations must yield to the National Government's policy or that generally there is executive authority to decide what that policy should be. In foreign policymaking, the President, not Congress, has the "lead role." First Nat. City Bank v. Banco Nacional de Cuba, 406 U. S. 759, 767. Specifically, the President has authority to make "executive agreements" with other countries, requiring no ratification by the Senate or approval by Congress. See, e. g., Dames & Moore v. Regan, 453 U. S. 654, 679, 682-683. Making such agreements to settle claims of American nationals against foreign governments is a particularly longstanding practice. Although the executive agreements with Germany, Austria, and France at issue differ from past agreements in that they address claims associated with formerly belligerent states, but against corporations, not the foreign governments, the distinction does not matter. Insisting on a sharp line between public and private