SCOTUS Takes on Human Rights and the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 Tomorrow

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral argument on Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and I gotta say, I’m excited to see how this one turns out.

The substantive issue is whether corporations are excluded from tort liability for violations of the law of nations such as torture, extrajudicial executions or other crimes against humanity, or instead may be sued in the same manner as any other private actor under the Alien Tort Statute for such egregious violations (from petitioners’ brief).

From the LA Times:

. . .[I]n a major test of human rights law, the justices will decide whether corporations are like people when they are sued for aiding foreign regimes that kill or torture their own people.

It would “create a weird paradox” if the corporations are people when funding campaigns but not when they violate human rights, said Peter Weiss, vice president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. . . .

On Tuesday, the justices will hear an appeal of a suit accusing Royal Dutch Petroleum and its Shell subsidiary in the United States of aiding a former Nigerian regime whose military police tortured, raped and executed minority residents in the oil-rich delta. The victims included famed Nigerian author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. . . .

Corporate lawyers chafe at these claims. They say it makes no sense to allow foreigners to sue in U.S. courts for actions that took place on foreign soil and under the auspices of foreign governments. Critics also say U.S. officials would not take kindly to foreign suits against American corporations if, for example, they were held liable for killing innocent people in Pakistan or Yemen because they had supplied drones or cruise missiles to the U.S. government. . . .

Obama administration lawyers joined human rights activists in appealing this decision to the Supreme Court.

“It would send a very bad message if we give corporations a blanket immunity if they engage in universally condemned human rights abuse,” said Jennifer Green, a University of Minnesota law professor. . . .

You can read the petitioners’ brief here. Thoughts?


1 Comment »

  1. Lizzy in the City said,

    February 27, 2012 at 11:51 am

    […] PSLawnet give a run down of the case here “SCOTUS Takes on Human Rights and the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 Tomorrow“. […]

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