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US Justice Department opposes Sudan divestment law


November 2, 2007 (WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department is increasing Bush administration pressure on Congress not to pass legislation designed to slash U.S. and foreign investment in Sudan because of the Darfur violence.

A letter to the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders even suggested the courts might be involved in knocking down a provision of the proposed Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act that would give congressional authorization for state and local governments’ divestment schemes.

The letter was circulated Friday by the Save Darfur Coalition.

"It’s ironic that the Bush administration wants to preserve a ’kid gloves’ option while the Khartoum regime continues to employ an iron fist against the people of Darfur," said John Prendergast, a member of the Save Darfur board.

"The administration’s continued attempts to derail a divestment bill with overwhelming bipartisan support actually undercut efforts to build leverage through targeted economic pressures," he said.

Dated Oct. 26, the letter was the second within a week from the administration, following by four days a similar document from the State Department that made some of the same arguments on constitutional and foreign policy grounds rather than legal.

The Constitution delegates foreign policy to the president. The Sudan law would punish U.S. or foreign entities for investing in Sudan while militias aligned with President Omar al-Bashir’s government wage a terror campaign in the arid Darfur region of western Sudan.

Like the State Department letter, the Justice letter emphasized as objectionable the law’s congressional authorization for U.S. state and local divestment policies.

It says the bill is flawed not only because it would "authorize states to act in an area in which the federal government has chosen not to act" but because it "would broadly authorize state and local divestitures in an area or field of foreign policy in which both Congress and the executive branch are extremely active."

Even if sponsors of the legislation believe it is consistent with President Bush’s policies regarding Sudan, the letter said, "that may not be the case in the future. It is entirely possible, for example, that a state could enact a divestment law ... that requires divestment in circumstances directly contrary to specific federal laws."

"During this period," the letter said, "it is critical that the federal government — the president, Congress and, if necessary, the federal courts — retain the tools the Constitution gives them to ensure that state and local governments do not engage in divestment activity that, however well-intentioned, would jeopardize United States foreign policy on Sudan and potentially other issues."

It said the Justice Department strongly opposes the divestment part of the proposed law.

The proposal, divestment included, has been approved by the Senate Banking Committee but has not been scheduled for a vote in the Senate.


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