Posts tagged as:

Alien Tort Claims Act

  • U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to Germany: to comply with your treaty obligations, you must punish this insensitive discussion of immigrants [Volokh, Bader]
  • California’s Armenian genocide law entrenches on federal foreign affairs power [Ku/OJ]
  • Heritage Foundation urges feds to overrule state marijuana laws on grounds of international treaty obligations [via @LucyStag]
  • UN conventions ban torture, but that can bear meanings very different than in common parlance [Wesley Smith, Weekly Standard]
  • Kiobel-aftermath marathon at Opinio Juris: Spiro, Lederman, Ku, Bellinger and Kontorovich, Alford, Phillips, Moyn, earlier here, here. More: Eugene Kontorovich podcast, Federalist Society.
  • Underreported: how international vote buying influences outcomes in UN, similar bodies [Natalie Lockwood/OJ]
  • Adding a Protocol: U.N. human rights chief “today welcomed the birth of a new mechanism which will empower individuals to seek out justice when their rights to food, adequate housing, education or health are violated.” [UN]

Michael Greve on Kiobel

by Walter Olson on April 19, 2013

Too amusing not to quote:

In my offhand judgment, Justice Breyer’s argument about the ATS and its “fit” with the presumption [against extraterritoriality] has force. (The Chief has an answer, but it’s a very close call.) What this is actually about, though, is a monitoring problem; and on that, the Chief is right.

The ATS has become a playpen for a cabal of international law enthusiasts and plaintiffs’ lawyers. Couple the former’s wild-eyed global aspirations with the latter’s eagerness to drag corporations through our one-of-a-kind tort system, and it’s Katy, bar the door. The Chief’s rule blocks all that: if it happened abroad, that’s it. Justice Breyer’s position, in contrast, would compel the Court to monitor all the places and institutions where this stuff gets out of hand: the Ninth Circuit; the wildest district courts in the country; the folks who are in charge of the Restatement of Foreign Relations; and the people who crank up “customary” international law (which becomes “customary” when someone at Yale Law School says it is, and the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs agrees). If some foreign employees of a U.S. company sue other employees of that company over tortious sexual harassment at the company’s foreign plants, has the defendants’ conduct “substantially and adversely affect[ed] an important American national interest,” that of serving as a beacon of sexual equality in the world? You tell me.

To ask the Supreme Court to keep an eye on this is to declare surrender. So it’s good that the Court has drawn a line. Whether it’ll hold, we’ll see.

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This morning’s big Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum was a huge win for good sense. While splitting 5-4 on reasoning, the nine justices unanimously rejected the lefty view of the Alien Tort Statute that had been popular on campus, in the foundation world, and so forth. Here’s my Cato take:

Just as the United States should not play policeman to the world, so our courts should not play tort-suit venue to the world. Today the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously and decisively buried the misguided, decades-long hope of some lawyers and academics that they could turn the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) into a wide-ranging method of hauling overseas damage claims into American courts. All nine Justices agreed with the Second Circuit that the statute does not grant jurisdiction for our courts to hear a controversy over alleged assistance in human rights violations outside the U.S. against non-U.S. plaintiffs by a non-U.S. business. A majority of five justices reiterated and relied on our law’s strong traditional presumption against extraterritoriality, that is to say, presumption against applying the law to actions that take place in other countries. While parting from this reasoning, four concurring justices nonetheless endorsed a view of ATS as applicable extraterritorially only to very extreme misconduct comparable to piracy, and also as sharply limited by considerations of comity with foreign sovereigns.

It is a good day for a realistic and modest sense of what United States courts of justice can successfully do, namely: do justice within the United States.

Notably, all nine Justices sidestepped the issue that had caused extensive angst among many popular commentators, namely whether the statute could be applied to corporations as distinct from natural persons. Other views: Ilya Shapiro, Cato (“an exceedingly complicated case with a relatively simple solution”); SCOTUSBlog; Julian Ku/Opinio Juris (“this means that the ATS wars over corporate liability are almost over…. A theory that the ATS can be justified in universal civil jurisdiction cases has been rejected, 9-0.”) and more (death of “universal civil jurisdiction” idea, and speculation that Breyer’s shift of ground to a narrower ATS rationale was an unsuccessful attempt to pick up Kennedy); Sarah Altschuller (reading opinions, “struck by amount of time that must have been dedicated to debate re: pirates and shipdecks”); Josh Blackman (getting all nine justices to agree on a personal jurisdiction question isn’t easy, but it happened here); Hans Bader; Roger Alford (ATS “as we know it is dead… [Kiobel] has destroyed an entire cottage industry”; transnational state-court torts and choice of law likely to rise in importance as replacement); Eugene Kontorovich (academics scoffed when “foreign-cubed” ATS lawsuits were called into question, yet all nine justices have now embraced that position); earlier here; Cato’s amicus brief. Disapproving reactions on the left from Alliance for Justice, Center for Constitutional Rights (which unsuccessfully invoked the ATS to sue bulldozer maker Caterpillar Tractor over the death of anti-Israel protester Rachel Corrie, a story mentioned in Schools for Misrule, which discusses law-school and foundation enthusiasm for the ATS), and Human Rights First. More on the recent ATS defense by Judge Pierre Leval, cited by Justice Breyer in his concurrence for the four liberals.

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  • Let’s hope not: is Kony case reconciling conservatives to International Criminal Court? [New Republic] Sea Shepherd case shows Alien Tort Statute can serve “conservative” as well as “liberal” ends [Eugene Kontorovich, earlier]
  • “Why the U.S. Shouldn’t Sign On to Empty Human Rights Treaties” [Eric Posner, Slate, earlier]
  • Or maybe non-empty? U.N. Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities said to require enactment of strong Europe-wide equivalent of ADA [Disability Law]
  • A questionable free speech victory at the U.N. on defamation of religion [Jacob Mchangama]
  • Tales of “independent” court reports that weren’t: “Chevron-Ecuador case expert switches sides” [SF Chron, December]
  • New Kenneth Anderson book getting lots of recommendations: Living with the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order [Amazon]
  • “Revive Letters of Marque and Reprisal to Launch Cyber-Attacks Against China?” [Julian Ku/OJ]

Supreme Court roundup

by Walter Olson on November 12, 2012

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International law roundup

by Walter Olson on August 24, 2012

  • U.N. rapporteur lectures U.S. on Indian rights, calls for “some form of land restoration” [IPSNews] “So, the UN Wants the U.S. to Return Land to Indian Tribes…” [Claudia Rosett] In Chapters 10 and 11 of Schools for Misrule, I discuss the growing cooperation between Indian land-claim activists in this country and international organizations both within and without of the U.N. system. (More: I expand theme into a Daily Caller piece).
  • “Union Uses NAFTA To Fight Alabama Immigration Law” [Sean Higgins, IBD]
  • “UN hunger expert investigates Canada” [Hillel Neuer, National Post]“Everyone’s grievances can thus be transformed into human rights violations” [Jacob Mchangama and Aaron Rhodes, Freedom Rights Project, PDF]
  • Admittedly, at a “lefty Quaker school in the Northeast”: “You know international law is getting some traction when your fourth-grader is being taught about the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” [Peter Spiro, OJ]
  • New Third Circuit opinion in remanded U.S. v. Bond case, which tested limits of treaty power, could tee up issue for another SCOTUS outing [Spiro/OJ, FedSoc Blog, Liberty and Law; earlier]
  • “Canada’s Much Better and Very Different Alien Tort Statute” [Ku/OJ]
  • Implementation of United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) could draw inspiration from U.S. experience with institutional reform lawsuits [Michael Perlin via Bagenstos]

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  • Supreme Court orders rebriefing in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum case, could address extent of permitted extraterritoriality in Alien Tort Statute [Kenneth Anderson/Volokh quoting John Bellinger, Point of Law featured discussion, Ilya Shapiro on Cato brief]
  • UN “food rights” official: trade, investment pacts should not go forward without “human rights impact assessments” [De Schutter; his paternalist food-policy agenda] UN panel reviews Canada’s record on race, lectures on need for more multiculturalism [OHCHR]
  • Courts still reluctant to restrain parents’ physical discipline of kids, but UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, for which ratification push is expected in the U.S. this year, could change that [Elizabeth Wilson, ConcurOp]
  • Golan v. Holder: “Copyright Case May Have Profound Effect on Treaty Power” [Ilya Shapiro, Jurist]
  • Web accessibility litigation spreads to UK [Disability Law, related on role of U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, earlier and background]
  • New tone under Ambassador Joseph Torsella: “Obama Comes Around on U.N. Reform” [Brett Schaefer, NRO]
  • Reviewing new John Fonte book Sovereignty or Submission, Temple lawprof Peter Spiro contends that trend toward transnational governance isn’t “reversible…. It’s mostly wishful thinking to suppose that we can stick to the vision of the Founders.” [OJ, earlier here, etc., and see chapters 11-12 of Schools for Misrule]
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy “offensive and should be banned,” per UN anti-discrimination consultancy [Telegraph]

In the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, scheduled for argument Tuesday, the Supreme Court will consider curbing the modern scope of the Alien Tort Statute, which asserts U.S. jurisdiction over various human rights controversies arising within the bounds of other countries. [Reuters, earlier] Considering that it amounts to the Law of the Hegemon, the Statute is oddly popular in some Left circles [Kenneth Anderson/Volokh] European governments (Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands) have filed amicus briefs on the defense side [John Bellinger, Lawfare; more, WaPo]

More: The New York Times’s Room for Debate discussion includes a contribution by my Cato colleague Ilya Shapiro. And Point of Law is having a featured discussion on the case with David Weissbrodt of the University of Minnesota and Julian Ku of Hofstra.

September 29 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 29, 2011

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November 15 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 15, 2010

  • Simon Singh on need to reform UK libel law [BoingBoing]
  • Complaint: Scalia’s too darned principled on religious liberty [rebutted by Ponnuru at NRO]
  • Air Force sued after teenage rave in abandoned bunker turns bad [PoL]
  • Scathing Kleinfeld dissent in Ninth Circuit Alien Tort case [Volokh, Fisher, Recorder]
  • “Law Firm Accused of Requiring Heels, Then Discriminating When Injury Occurred” [ABA Journal]
  • Parent’s angry letter to Kansas City school board complaining that teacher laid hands on son; best part are the demands [Something Awful forums]
  • Australia: “Iconic Merry-Go-Round Is Deemed an Insurance Liability” [Free-Range Kids]
  • “Meatpacker to pay $3m for using strength test” [five years ago on Overlawyered]

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Goodbye Alien Tort Statute?

by Walter Olson on September 19, 2010

Maybe for corporate defendants, at least, if a blockbuster Second Circuit ruling holds up [Ku, Anderson, more, WLF]

July 13 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 13, 2010

  • Wal-Mart spending millions to fight $7,000 OSHA fine? Not so paradoxical when you think about it [Coyote]
  • Proliferation of product recalls, as with warnings, can result in consumer fatigue and inattention [WaPo via PoL]
  • Settlement said to be near between casino and gambler who lost $127 million [WSJ, UPI, earlier]
  • “Think Globally, Sue Locally: Out-of-Court Tactics Employed by Plaintiffs, Their Lawyers, and Their Advocates in Transnational Tort Cases” [study, PDF and press release; Jonathan Drimmer for US Chamber, related WSJ]
  • “End of an Era? Another Crunch Berries Case Dismissed” [Lowering the Bar, California Civil Justice, earlier on "froot" cases here, here, etc.]
  • New Jersey: “School legal costs are a killer” [Rayner, Daily Record]
  • ABA Journal profiles Ted Frank;
  • We’re the ones who write the laws around here, not you legislators: Washington Supreme Court strikes down med-mal notice law [SeattlePI.com]

So argued former State Department legal adviser John Bellinger III in the WSJ last week, with special reference to the overreaching, extraterritorial Alien Tort Statute. But it’s not as if the efforts to turn the U.S. into the courtroom for the world are slackening at all:

  • As Curtis Bradley and Jack Goldsmith note in the Washington Post, a federal court recently allowed to proceed a lawsuit seeking to blame the evils of South African apartheid on Western multinationals, even despite strong opposition to the suit from both the U.S. government’s executive branch and today’s duly elected multiracial South African government. Unfortunately, the State Department’s up-to-now-staunch opposition to this and similar lawsuits is imperiled by the installment of Harold Koh as legal adviser at Foggy Bottom: “Koh is an intellectual architect and champion of the post-1980 human rights litigation explosion. He joined a brief in the South Africa litigation arguing for broad aiding-and-abetting liability.”
  • If asked what should happen to frozen Cuban-government assets under U.S. control, reasonable possibility #1 might be “hold them against the eventual day when a non-tyrannical regime emerges there, it will need help.” Reasonable possibility #2 might be “divide the assets among Castro’s many victims in some deliberate and step-by-step way, knowing that their injuries are so numerous and severe that even very deserving victims will get only small payments”. The answer you’d think makes no sense at all is “encourage first-come-first-served tort lawsuits, so that the first couple of cases to maneuver their way through the legal process get handsome compensation, while no money is left for either #1 or #2″. So naturally, the latter is what our legal system is doing, previously in $188 million and $253 million verdicts involving single incidents or families, and now in a new case in which the family of Gustavo Villoldo has been awarded $1.179 billion. One of the plaintiff’s lawyers in the case actually boasts that the new award may obstruct a warming of relations between the U.S. and a post-Castro successor regime: “with the opening of relations between the U.S. and Cuba to come, there are debts to society to be paid before that happens” (more on Che Guevara, via).
  • On the brighter side, the Obama administration has joined its Bush predecessors in correctly drawing a line against litigation by some September 11 victims and insurance companies: under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, the courts are no place to pursue theories trying to link the rulers of Saudi Arabia to the terrorist attacks.

(cross-posted from Point of Law)

If you’re organizing much-publicized multi-million-dollar lawsuits in California courts on behalf of Nicaraguan banana workers allegedly rendered sterile by pesticides, it’s best not to bring in plaintiffs who 1) have kids and 2) never worked on the banana farm. [Bruce Nye, Cal Biz Lit; NLJ]

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Hard-hitting column by Stuart Taylor, Jr. on the destructiveness of the current legal actions

seeking more than $400 billion from companies that did business in South Africa during apartheid, [which] score high on what I call Taylor’s Index of Completely Worthless Lawsuit Indicators:

• The lawsuits will do victims of wrongdoing little or no good.

• They will penalize no human being who has done anything wrong.

• They will deter more conduct that is beneficial than harmful.

• The legal costs and any damages will come at the expense of the general public.

• The lawsuits therefore serve no purpose at all but to enrich lawyers and provide ideological power trips for some judges as well as lawyers.

American Isuzu Motors v. Ntsebeza, recently allowed to go forward, is being led by (among others) class-actioneer and frequent Overlawyered mentionee Michael Hausfeld.

The apartheid lawsuit is one of dozens seeking to pervert the Alien Tort Statute to mulct companies for ordinary commercial conduct in countries accused of human-rights violations. Caterpillar, for example, was sued for selling bulldozers that Israel used to destroy suspected Palestinian terrorists’ homes. (The case was dismissed.) “The American bar is actively soliciting alien plaintiffs” to try out novel theories, State Department legal adviser John Bellinger noted in a recent speech. Because so many federal judges have smiled on such suits, Bellinger added, foreign governments increasingly regard the U.S. judiciary “as something of a rogue actor.”

With added commentary on the Kivalina climate-change class action, Rhode Island lead paint, shareholder litigation, and Lerach, Weiss, and Scruggs. (National Journal, May 17, will rotate off page so catch it now).

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