Backing for woman over paintings stolen by Nazis

PA 20 May 2010

California's attorney general filed a brief with the US Supreme Court in support of a Connecticut woman who wants a Pasadena museum to return two 500-year-old paintings seized by Nazis during the Second World War.

Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the court to consider an appeal by Marei von Saher of Greenwich, who sued the Norton Simon Museum for the paintings in 2007.

The pair of 16th century wood panels by German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder was seized from Ms von Saher's relative, owned for a time by Nazi leader Hermann Goering and purchased 40 years ago by the museum. In 2007, the paintings were valued at 24 million US dollars in an insurance appraisal.

They feature Adam and Eve, and might have been the inspiration for the title sequence of ABC's Desperate Housewives.

Mr Brown's brief argued that California law extending the statute of limitations for heirs of Holocaust victims beyond the usual three-year limit that would apply to Ms von Saher.

A trial court in Los Angeles tossed out the case, ruling that the law was unconstitutional because it interferes with the US federal government's authority over foreign policy.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last year, but ruled the lawsuit could proceed if Ms von Saher can prove she inherited the art before the statute of limitations expired, under another state law not related to Holocaust survivors.

Mr Brown argued that the California law is constitutional because there is no conflict between the federal government conducting foreign policy and the state regulating museums and galleries, which he said is a traditional state responsibility.

Ms von Saher's claim doesn't try to "redress the wartime wrongs of foreign governments," wrote Mr Brown, who is running for governor.

The lawsuit is against a museum with no ties to the Holocaust or the Nazi regime.
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