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Public Statements

Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to thank the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Chabot), a leader on the Judiciary Committee, for introducing this legislation. I also want to thank Mr. Conyers and Mr. Cohen for their support as well.

This bill preserves the ability of U.S. museums and educational institutions to continue to borrow foreign government-owned artwork and artifacts for temporary exhibition or display. The United States has long recognized the importance of encouraging a cultural exchange of ideas through exhibitions of artwork loaned from abroad. Cultural exchanges produce substantial benefits to the educational and cultural development of all Americans. The future success of these exchanges depends on foreign lenders having confidence that loaning artwork to U.S. institutions will not open them up to lawsuits in U.S. courts.

For 40 years, the Immunity from Seizure Act provided foreign government lenders with this confidence. However, rulings in several recent Federal cases have caused that confidence to unravel. In these decisions, the courts have determined that the Immunity from Seizure Act does not preempt the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which provides U.S. courts with jurisdiction in cases against foreign countries.

The effect has been to open foreign governments up to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts simply because they loaned artwork to an American museum or educational institution. This has seriously threatened the ability of U.S. institutions to borrow foreign government-owned artwork. It has also resulted in cultural exchanges being curtailed as foreign government lenders have become hesitant to permit their artwork to travel to the United States.

The bill addresses this situation. It provides that if artwork is granted immunity by the State Department under the Immunity from Seizure Act, then the loan of that artwork cannot subject a foreign government to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

This is very narrow legislation. It only applies to one of the many grounds of jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. It requires the State Department to grant the artwork immunity under the Immunity from Seizure Act before the provisions of the bill apply. And in order to preserve the claims of victims of the Nazi government and its allies during World War II, the bill has an exception for claims brought by these victims.

If we want to encourage foreign governments to continue to lend artwork to American museums and educational institutions, we must enact this legislation. Without the protections this bill provides, rather than lending artwork to U.S. institutions, foreign governments will simply deny American loan requests. So I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

Madam Speaker, at this time I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Chabot), who is the author of this legislation and an active member of the Judiciary Committee.

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