While the United States and Iran heatedly battle over nuclear
disarmament on the world stage, they joined forces last week before the
7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court heard arguments on Oct. 26 in a case asking whether the Field
Museum in Chicago and the University of Chicago must give up artifacts
purportedly owned by Iran as compensation for victims of a terrorist
bombing allegedly sponsored by Iran. The U.S. government as amicus
curiae sided with Iran in an effort to overturn a trial court ruling
backing the victims’ efforts to seize the artifacts.
“The questions of foreign sovereign immunity at issue in this case are
ones of significant interest to the United States,” Sharon Swingle, an
attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in oral arguments.
“They have an impact not just in this case obviously, but in all
litigation involving foreign states in U.S. courts and also have a
ramification for the treatment of the U.S. in foreign courts abroad.”
The case grew out of a 2003 default judgment in the U.S. District Court
for the District of Columbia, which found Iran liable for $71 million in
damages caused by a 1997 terrorist bombing in Jerusalem. Subsequently,
victims filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois seeking to seize the artifacts as payment.
Last week Iran was appealing a 2008 decision by the lower court to
reconsider an earlier decision forcing Iran to list its U.S. assets and
a 2006 decision that only Iran, and not a third party, can seek to
shield its assets from the default judgment. Iran stayed out of the case
until the 2006 ruling, but afterward hired Thomas Corcoran Jr. of
Washington, D.C.-based Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe. He declined to