Massachusetts vs. Burma

Source : Washington Post

I appreciate the April 17 editorial in support of Massachusetts in its dispute with the National Foreign Trade Council and the administration over whether a state can refuse to do business with companies it regards as participating in human rights abuses. But the editorial incorrectly stated that "Congress has the authority to preempt the Massachusetts law."

As we argued in our amicus brief on the case, Congress does not have jurisdiction to interfere with or preempt the sort of purchasing decisions at stake here. Since the action of Massachusetts is not direct involvement in foreign policy nor an act of regulating interstate commerce, Congress has no authority to interfere. Massachusetts has as much right as any private company or private citizen to choose where to spend its money, and choose not to do business with companies it finds to be engaged in morally objectionable practices.

We do not dispute that in certain instances Congress is within its power to enact international boycotts and prohibit trade with foreign countries or companies. It is a different thing to think that Congress can enact some sort of reverse boycott, mandating that Americans must do business with a particular country or company. That is what is at stake in the Massachusetts Burma case, and Congress certainly has no such power.



The writer is director of the Coalition for Local Sovereignty, which submitted an amicus curiae brief in the Massachusetts NFTC case.