Supreme Court Affirms Precedent-Setting Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act Decision

Washington, DC — On March 18, the United States Supreme Court let stand a precedent-setting case involving Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Arent Fox LLP secured a complete dismissal of a lawsuit against President Kagame on the grounds that he was immune from suit in the United States as a sitting head of state in an action entitled Habyarimana, et al v. Kagame.

The dismissal was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and the Circuit’s holding has been left totally undisturbed by the Supreme Court. Arent Fox, which served as counsel for President Kagame in the lower courts, also represented him before the Supreme Court. The Arent Fox team was comprised of Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper and partner Michael S. Cryan.

In October 2012, the Tenth Circuit issued an opinion affirming a federal district court ruling that dismissed a wrongful death suit filed by two widows of deceased African presidents against President Kagame. The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari means that the Tenth Circuit’s opinion on the case is not subject to further review by any court.

“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision to let stand the Tenth Circuit’s precedent setting ruling,” said Amb. Prosper, the lead defense attorney in the case. “The court’s decision acknowledges the importance of separation of powers and finds that the courts should abstain from intrusion into matters that could trammel on the Executive Branch’s conduct of foreign policy.”

By denying certiorari, the Supreme Court effectively affirmed the appeals court ruling that found President Kagame was immune from suit as a head of state recognized by the United States government. Both the Circuit Court and the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) and the US Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in Clinton v. Jones, which held that that the sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton could proceed while he was still in office, dictated that the suit against President Kagame should continue. In its decision, a unanimous Tenth Circuit panel held, “We must accept the United States’ suggestion that a foreign head of state is immune from suit — even for [alleged] acts committed prior to assuming office.”

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