He said the companies are being sued for merely doing business in South Africa at a time when the United States and other nations encouraged a policy of commercial engagement with South Africa.
Apartheid was dismantled in a series of steps from 1990 to 1994 and replaced by an elected, democratic government.
The legal action runs counter to the approach adopted by South Africa's new government to deal with the country's violent and controversial past. The new government embraced a process of "reconciliation and reconstruction," rather than a version of victors' justice.
Mr. Barron's brief quotes South Africa's Minister of Education saying: "South Africa must settle this issue for itself and does not need the help of ambulance chasers."
Lawyers for the victims of apartheid had urged the Supreme Court not to take up the case. A New York-based appeals court declined in October to dismiss the lawsuit, upholding the plaintiff's aiding and abetting theory. The panel then sent the case back to trial court to rule on whether the apartheid victims could rely on other legal theories as well.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito declined to participate in the case because they own stock in some of the sued corporations. Justice Kennedy recused himself from the case because his son is an executive with one of the sued companies, according to the Associated Press.