Descendants of U.S. slaves will not be receiving reparation checks any time soon. A federal judge served a blow to the modern slavery reparations movement by tossing out a lawsuit on Wednesday that asked corporations that reaped profits from slave labor to pay up. In a 104-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle said slavery has caused "tremendous suffering and ineliminable scars," but an attempt by slave descendants to seek reparations "more than a century after the end of the Civil War and the formal abolition of slavery fails."
"It is undisputed that Congress has taken the initiative to deal with issues arising from the slave trade in the decades after the Civil War. Congress has considered and rejected Representative Conyers' calls for the establishment of a commission to study the effects of slavery. . . . This district court will therefore not substitute its judgment for that of Congress on the matter of slave reparations."
Judge Norgle wrote that the plaintiffs in the case had to prove they were personally injured by slavery, adding that a genealogical tie to slaves is not enough to show that injury. He also ruled the lawsuit was brought too late and, citing long-standing legal doctrine, Norgle argued that a decision over reparations isn't proper for the courts. It's an issue that should be decided by the president or Congress, he said.
Norgle said the plaintiffs failed to show that they had experienced any "concrete and particular" suffering that wasn't true of African Americans in general. He also said those suing failed to allege any conduct by the 17 defendants that personally affected any of the plaintiffs.
Conrad Worrill, chairman of the National Black United Front, denounced the ruling as the product of "conservative, right-wing, judicial, political decision-making." He scoffed at Norgle's contention that plaintiffs had not proved personal injury from slavery.
"Judge Norgle is just a liar; he is exercising his political ideology," Worrill said. "We did prove it. It is a question of whose eyes are interpreting the facts. His eyes are the eyes of a racist."