U.S. Court of Appeals Finds Massachusetts Burma Law Unconstitutional

Tuesday, 22 June 1999

In a unanimous ruling, the First Circuit held that the Burma Law impermissibly intruded on the federal government's exclusive authority to conduct foreign relations, violated the foreign commerce clause, and was preempted by federal law regarding Burma.

"We are delighted that the First Circuit has upheld the NFTC case and agreed that state and local sanctions laws are not allowable under our Constitution," Kittredge continued. "This ruling has broad, nationwide significance, and should help put an end to local efforts to make foreign policy. We continue to share concerns over human rights abuses in Burma; however, our system of government was not designed to allow the fifty states and hundreds of municipalities to conduct their own individual foreign policies."

The First Circuit's opinion, which was written by Judge Sandra Lynch and joined by Judges Frank Coffin and Conrad Cyr, concluded that "the conduct of this nation's foreign affairs cannot be effectively managed on behalf of all of the nation's citizens if each of the many state and local governments pursues its own foreign policy."

The NFTC has, for most of this century, represented the interests of hundreds of companies in open international trade. NFTC filed the Massachusetts case on behalf of its 580 members because the law established a "restricted purchase list" which includes over 30 of the NFTC's member companies -- preventing these companies from competing on an equal basis for contracts with Massachusetts state agencies unless these companies cease doing business in Burma.


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