Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor site
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case that may result in significant limits being imposed on the scope of lawsuits that can be brought under the Alien Tort Statute. For the past several decades, the ATS has served as the favorite vehicle of human rights activists and plaintiffs’ lawyers seeking to challenge the overseas business practices of U.S. corporations. The Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum will determine whether the ATS applies at all to overseas activities, or whether it is limited to allegations of human rights abuses within the United States. Based on today’s arguments, the vote is going to be close.
The ATS is a 1789 law that grants jurisdiction to federal courts over tort claims by aliens alleging violations of “the law of nations.” The law lay dormant for two centuries, primarily because litigants assumed that the number of torts to which the law applied was extremely narrow—perhaps limited only to claims by foreign ambassadors that they had been assaulted in this country. But in 1980, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala that the ATS applied to a wide array of alleged human rights violations. In the decades that followed, activists sued U.S. corporations under the ATS for an increasing variety of overseas activities, from operating facilities that allegedly polluted the environment to administering medications without first providing informed consent to giving financial support to oppressive foreign governments. WLF has been actively involved in many of those suits, opposing expansive interpretations of the ATS. Continue reading “If Oral Argument is Any Indication, Vote in SCOTUS Kiobel Case Will Be Close”