NFTC Challenge to Massachusetts Sanctions Heard at U.S. Supreme Court

Wednesday, 22 March 2000

"This case is about more than just the ability of American companies to pursue international opportunities without being subjected to a patchwork of state and local sanctions. The issue boils down to whether U.S. international relations should be subject to the separate policies of 50 states and thousands of municipalities -- or whether we are better served when our country speaks with one voice," he continued.

  • In 1998, the NFTC successfully sued the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the U.S. District Court in Boston, which held that the Massachusetts Burma Law was an unconstitutional exercise of foreign-affairs power. In 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that the Burma Law was an unconstitutional exercise of foreign-affairs power, violated the Foreign Commerce Clause, and was preempted by federal sanctions against Burma. Massachusetts is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the lower courts’ decisions.


  • The United States Government supports the NFTC position. In its Supreme Court brief supporting the decisions of the lower courts, the U.S. Solicitor General states: " ...the ultimate authority to act on behalf of the United States, and each of its States, in the international arena resides with the President and Congress alone."

"Burma is not the only country targeted for state and local sanctions, as measures have been adopted or are pending in jurisdictions across the country against countries such as Cuba, Nigeria, Indonesia, Switzerland, Sudan, China and others. If allowed to continue, U.S. exporters will find themselves hamstrung by a growing list of local sanction laws that do nothing to affect international change, but will mark U.S. companies as unreliable suppliers," Kittredge concluded.

NFTC was joined in its position with a series of Amicus Briefs filed on behalf of:

  • The United States of America
  • The European Community
  • A wide array of national and state business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers.
  • Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Retailers Association of Massachusetts, and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
  • Members of Congress
  • Former U.S. Government officials, including President Gerald Ford, Richard Cheney, Lee Hamilton, Carla Hills, Robert McNamara, Leon Panetta, and George Shultz.
  • The Washington Legal Foundation


For nearly one hundred years, NFTC has 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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