Nazi-Looted Art Legislation Advances in Senate

The Weekly Standard 15 September 2016
By Alice B. Lloyd

The HEAR Act, approved by Senate Judiciary, continues to move forward.

A bipartisan bill to reset the statute of limitations on Nazi-looted art claims made by Holocaust survivors and their heirs passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday morning.

The Holocaust Expropriated Art Restitution (HEAR) Act would help ensure that procedural hurdles for Holocaust-era stolen art claims—principally legal constraints concerning elapsed time since the theft occurred—do not disqualify heirs' claims.

Texas senator John Cornyn, one of the measure's cosponsors, offered substitute text restraining the bill's applicability. The amendment, which he characterized as a result of discussions with art museums, limits the proposed law's ability to protect an heir who knew there was a claim to be made and yet hesitated to make it. The committee adopted his language.

"After 1999 if you knew about your claim and where the art was and had an opportunity to sue but did not, your claim would not benefit from the HEAR Act," Senator Cornyn read. He further clarified that "The HEAR Act does not create any new causes of action."

What it does do is help ensure that these cases, derived from an unsurpassed evil, are tried on the merits.

Legal advocates for Nazi-looted art claimants accept that working with museums is also essential to the difficult, delicate process of Nazi-looted art restitution.

After the HEAR Act was introduced in the Senate, THE WEEKLY STANDARD considered the timeliness and significance of this legislation:

'A grandmother in Ohio may remember a Flemish landscape hanging in her parents' dining room in the interwar old country, but her grandchildren, heirs to that obliterated culture, can now take the search online. But even if a tech-savvy grandson can find a possible match on one of the public online archives—he'd judge by its dimensions, description, and, if luck would have it, by its photograph—the work of verifying her claim to even a minor Old Master would take expensive expert advising and legal counsel. Meanwhile, statutes of limitation and laches, legal restraints on the time a claimant waits to seek justice for a crime, differ from state to state; but nowhere in the U.S. do these restraints favor the victims of international crimes carried out a lifetime ago.'
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