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Constitutional Law

City’s ‘comfort women’ memorial interferes with US right to conduct foreign policy, suit contends

Posted Feb 27, 2014 9:37 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A lawsuit claims the city of Glendale, Calif., is violating the Constitution by erecting a statue in a public park that honors “comfort women” coerced into working as prostitutes in Japanese military brothels during World War II.

The suit (PDF) claims the statue “exceeds the power of Glendale, infringes upon the federal government's power to exclusively conduct the foreign affairs of the United States and violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.” The Glendale News Press has a story on the suit and a follow-up report on the city council’s refusal to remove the 1,100 pound memorial, which shows a woman in Korean dress seated next to an empty chair.

Mayer Brown filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs, creating a firestorm among some legal bloggers who say the firm should have turned down the suit.

“By installing the public monument,” the suit says, “Glendale has taken a position in the contentious and politically-sensitive international debate concerning the proper historical truth of the former comfort women.” The suit also argues that the city of Glendale did not follow its own rules when it approved the statue.

Mayer Brown filed the suit on behalf of a Glendale resident, a Los Angeles resident and a newly formed nonprofit group called GAHT-US Corp. The nonprofit was created on Feb. 6 and its address is a UPS store, according to the Legal Satyricon, which joins Popehat in criticizing the suit and Mayer Brown’s representation of the plaintiffs.

“I have written about many maddening lawsuits at Popehat,” blogger Ken White writes. “But I cannot remember a lawsuit that so immediately repulsed and enraged me.” Marc Randazza of The Legal Satyricon suggests Mayer Brown should have turned down the suit and accuses the firm of “abject stupidity and dishonorable behavior.”

Above the Law wouldn't go so far. “Maybe I’m taking too amoral a view—perhaps years of observing and writing about the legal profession have made me jaded—but I’m not sure,” David Lat of Above the Law says. “It seems not terribly different from any other case in which a BigLaw firm represents some powerful interest opposed to human rights (or arguably opposed to human rights, if you want to be a comfort-women-denier about it).”

Lat says he wonders whether the plaintiffs have ties to the firm's existing corporate clients, as he doesn't consider this to be a typical case Mayer & Brown would take up. Mayer Brown did not respond to a request for comment by Above the Law.

Updated at 12:39 p.m. to clarify attributions.

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