Supreme Court to allow sex-abuse suit against Vatican to proceed

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In announcing which cases it would take during its next term, the Supreme Court said Monday that it would let stand a lower-court ruling allowing the Vatican to be sued over the church sex-abuse scandal, indicated it would review one of Arizona's controversial immigration laws and declined to get involved in landmark anti-tobacco-industry litigation.

Church sex-abuse lawsuit can continue

In declining to stop a lawsuit that accuses the Vatican of conspiring with U.S. church officials to cover up sex abuse, the court took a rare step toward bringing the Holy See into a U.S. courtroom.

The justices, without comment, declined the Vatican's appeal of a lower-court ruling that said it could be sued in a U.S. court on certain grounds. The decision came in a lawsuit filed by a man who said he was sexually abused as a teenager in 1965 by a priest in Portland, Ore. His attorneys said the church moved the priest among different assignments to cover up the abuse.

The Vatican argued that its status as a foreign country exempts it from being sued in a U.S. court, a longtime position that has helped shield it from such lawsuits.

In partially rejecting that argument, the Supreme Court allowed pretrial discovery in the case to go forward, and attorneys for the plaintiff said they would seek to subpoena church documents and call Vatican officials under oath. But attorneys for both sides said they doubted that the decision would trigger a flood of additional lawsuits from victims.

"We are not foreseeing that. You really have to have specific facts and a pattern that implicates direct Vatican involvement to bring these cases," said Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the plaintiff and for hundreds of other people who say they were sexually abused by priests.

Ariz. immigrant hiring law to be reviewed

The court agreed to review an Arizona law that sanctions employers for hiring illegal immigrants. The law was designed to discourage immigrants from coming into the country by holding employers accountable for giving them a job.

It is distinct from the new Arizona law that President Obama and other members of his administration have recently criticized. That measure empowers police to question anyone who authorities have a "reasonable suspicion" is an illegal immigrant.

With the Justice Department preparing a lawsuit against Arizona over the new law, the court's decision to review the earlier measure -- the Legal Arizona Workers Act -- signals a willingness to get involved in one of the nation's most politically divisive issues. The Obama administration had urged the court to review and set aside the Legal Arizona Workers Act, saying federal immigration law should preempt state efforts.

U.S. officials have said that in its suit against Arizona's law empowering police to question illegal immigrants, the Justice Department is considering a similar "preemption" argument.

Ruling against tobacco industry stands

The court declined to get involved in the government's lawsuit against the tobacco industry, which is more than a decade old, leaving in place a ruling that said cigarette makers lied about the dangers of smoking.

The rejection of a series of tobacco cases closes a legal odyssey that began when the Justice Department sued tobacco companies and trade groups in 1999. The court declined to hear appeals of the 2006 ruling by a federal judge that said the industry conspired for decades to defraud the public about smoking's hazards.

Legal analysts said the decision is a mixed verdict for the tobacco industry because it could expose tobacco companies to additional legal liability but prevents the Obama administration from seeking to recover $280 billion in past industry profits or $14 billion for a national campaign to curb smoking. The Supreme Court previously denied the government's appeal on that issue.

"This forever eliminates the potential of a large-scale financial recovery from the industry in this case," said David Adelman, a tobacco industry analyst at Morgan Stanley. "In terms of affecting the business, turning off consumers, I don't think it's going to have any effect."

He added that being forced to pay the $280 billion would have been "the end" of the industry.

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