[JURIST] The heirs of slaves, who filed federal lawsuits against companies that allegedly profited from slavery before the abolition of the practice in the United States, argued [recorded audio, MP3] Wednesday in front of the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] that their cases should be heard. US District Judge Charles Norgle [official profile] dismissed [JURIST report] the consolidated cases last year, saying that the statute of limitations had expired and it would be impossible for the plaintiffs to show how they were personally damaged by the companies' actions 150 years ago. The plaintiffs alleged that the companies insured slaves and granted loans for their purchase and did not make their involvement known until recently, preventing the heirs from filing a claim earlier.
From the bench Judge Richard Posner [official profile] questioned how activities in the 1850s could affect the present day situation of the slaves' descendents. The plaintiffs' lawyers responded that the heirs would have had assets from their family members had they been able to work as free men and women, calling the impact "living history." The lawsuits were filed across the US and consolidated in Chicago naming such companies as Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, CSX Railroad, Aetna [corporate websites], and Brown and Williamson Tobacco. Two of the plaintiffs are children of slaves. The Chicago Tribune has more.