Mark B. Feldman international law

Garvey Schubert Barer

202-321-2690

Georgetown University Law Center (foreign relations law) 

Former Deputy and Acting Legal Adviser U.S. Department of State 

NY Times  July 5, 2013, A16

Re “Museums Faulted on Restitution of Nazi-Looted Art” (Arts pages, July 1): American museums are rightly faulted for holding many works stolen by Nazis during World War II. The Obama administration should also be faulted for opposing California’s effort to comply with United States commitments under the Washington Principles to let claims be decided on the merits.

When California relaxed the statute of limitations in such cases, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court in Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena that the California statute was pre-empted by our country’s foreign policy. That position disregarded the fact that United States foreign policy on restitution of Nazi-looted art is embodied in the Washington Conference Principles and the Terezin Declaration, in which we call upon our allies not to hide behind technical defenses such as time limitations.

As most American museums are private and state law applies to restitution claims, only the states can honor these United States agreements. The federal government should not stand in the way.

MARK B. FELDMAN
Washington, July 1, 2013

The writer, who was deputy legal adviser at the State Department and negotiated the Unesco Cultural Property Convention, teaches foreign relations law at Georgetown Law.