Lawmakers Demand Hearing on Holocaust Insurance

By JTA

Published June 02, 2010, issue of June 11, 2010.

A bipartisan group of 12 congressmen, including nine Jewish members, has called for a hearing into a bill that would allow litigants to make Holocaust-era insurance claims in U.S. courts.

“This bill would help Holocaust survivors and heirs recover on policies sold by insurance companies to their families before World War II, but where benefits have never been paid,” read a May 12 letter calling for the hearing, initiated by Reps. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and Elton Gallegly, a California Republican, to Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act, the latest iteration of similar bills that have failed to make it to full House votes in previous Congresses, would keep courts from citing executive branch policy in denying such lawsuits.

The State Department and other agencies have referred litigants to the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims process, saying that to do otherwise would undermine American credibility in settling similar international disputes.

A number of potential litigants have objected, saying that the ICHEIC process addressed only a fraction of potential claims.

The congressional leadership has resisted advancing the bills, in part because of the constitutional questions posed by a law that would mandate courts to ignore the executive branch on a matter of foreign policy. Additionally, congressional insiders said, however difficult the ICHEIC process is, it offers speedier redress than the courts, which can take years.

Among the signatories are Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who introduced the current bill in February, and Rep. John Garamendi, a California Democrat, who clashed with ICHEIC in 2004, when he was California’s insurance commissioner, over what he said was its slow pace and inadequate efforts in administering claims.

The bill has 28 co-sponsors, including Conyers, a Michigan Democrat.



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