Some lawsuits you know won’t proceed because, if successful, they would make the world as we know it impossible. That’s the case with the Missouri suit against China. Filed this week by the state’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, the suit seeks tens of billions of dollars in restitution from China over the Coronavirus crisis.
Imagine your state having to defend itself from lawsuits brought by every provincial court in China. Now multiply that by every court in every state or province of every country in the world. The suit contemplated by Schmitt would mean exactly that, which is why it does not seem a serious effort to attach liability but rather an action to serve another purpose. Jurisdictions couldn’t cover the international legal costs, to say nothing of the judgments that would issue.
A cynic might conclude that Schmitt initiated the suit not as a genuine attempt at recovery but for personal political gain. But what would an ambitious Missouri Republican gain by standing up to China these days?
Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at George Mason’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, told LN:
“The issue of Chinese responsibility for coronavirus is a legitimate and serious one, but the courthouse is not the right forum. Indeed, the harms are far too great to possibly be dealt with judicially. Moreover, the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity certainly bars the suit. Any redress must properly be pursued by the U.S. itself through countermeasures, trade, and financial penalties imposed on China.”
Sovereign immunity is the legal doctrine that holds a sovereign cannot be compelled to defend itself in court at home or abroad. Instead of thinking of countries it may be helpful to think of royal power, from where the maxim comes. A queen subject to being dragged into court in a foreign land is no queen. She enjoys similar status at home because that would make the courts more powerful than she was. With this principle in mind, it is difficult to see how a U.S. state could compel the Chinese government to submit to any court ruling.
Does Missouri have its own international virus intelligence service? If not, one wonders how the AG could assert in the complaint: “The virus unleashed by the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government has left no community in the world untouched.” Also, “This COVID-19 pandemic is the direct result of a sinister campaign of malfeasance and deception carried out by defendants.”
If, through some bizarre chain of circumstances, China were to be held liable for all the damage COVID-19 caused, the country would ignore the judgment or be bankrupt instantly. So why then would Schmitt mount this case, using the limited resources of his office to write and file the 47-page complaint? Calls to his office went unanswered.
Using the courts to make a political point is odious — whether done by Republicans or Democrats.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.
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