After nearly a decade away, David Boies returns to the United States Supreme Court to fight a long-running legal struggle about who owns a piece of art taken by the Nazis at the outset of World War II.
Boies has argued four Supreme Court cases, the first in 1987, Pennzoil v. Texaco, and the others in 2000, the infamous Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 presidential election against Boies' client, Al Gore; 2011, Erica P. John Fund v. Halliburton, and 2014, Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, both involving securities fraud.
The journey of the oil painting "Rue Saint-Honoré, Afternoon, Rain Effect" by the French impressionist Jacob-Abraham-Camille Pissarro, finished in 1897, is lengthy and complicated. However, it all started in 1900, when Paul Cassirer, the owner of a Berlin art gallery, purchased the painting straight from Pissarro's exclusive French dealer. The Nazis compelled Lilly Cassirer to sell the picture for $360, which the family never received, in exchange for departure documents for her and her husband to escape Germany in 1939.
Lilly Cassirer emigrated to England, then to America, where she died in 1962. During a ten-year legal battle following the war, she attempted to reclaim the picture. The painting changed hands many times between 1951 and 1976, when it was purchased by Baron von Thyssen-Bornemisza from a New York gallery. The nobleman eventually sold his art collection, which included the picture, to Spain. Claude Cassirer, Lilly Cassirer's grandson, began looking for the picture in the 1990s. For years, the family assumed that the picture had been lost or destroyed by the Nazis.
In 1999, a customer of Claude Cassirer noticed the picture in a TBC catalogue and initiated a series of fruitless discussions with Spain for the painting's restitution, ending in 2005 with the family's lawsuit filed in California federal district court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
Multiple rounds of litigation ensued, as the district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wrestled with subject-matter jurisdiction and other FSIA issues. However, in 2015, Sam Dubbin, a name partner at Dubbin & Kravetz in Coral Gables, Florida, sought assistance from pal Steve Zack. Zack didn't waste any time.
"I am Jewish-Cuban," Zack explained. "My grandpa immigrated from Russia, and his family perished in extermination camps." This is having an effect on me. Castro took away all of my family's houses and enterprises in 1961, and we fled to the United States. There are some parallels here. This has a strong personal and emotional resonance. This was something I believed was necessary." However, they ran into a big stumbling block in the district court and the Ninth Circuit. Both judges decided that Spanish law, rather than California law, applied, which rendered their suit moot. On Tuesday, Boies will argue before the Supreme Court that the plain wording of the FSIA, which declares that a "foreign state will be accountable in the same way and to the same extent as a domestic state," is unconstitutional.
"The concept involved in this case is so universal and more relevant today than ever before, with the plundering that occurs when these nations are taken over by individuals who care less about anyone's rights," he continued. "It's a principle that has to be established and clarified." No, it's already been decided. It all stems from the Bible: "Thou shall not steal."