On April 17, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum. The case involved the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which permits non-U.S. citizens to bring a lawsuit in federal court in order to seek relief for certain violations of international law.
This case was first argued February 28, 2012, and considered whether corporations, and not merely individuals, can be held liable in an ATS lawsuit, and whether that issue affects the jurisdiction of the court even to hear the case. On March 5, 2012, however, the Supreme Court put the Kiobel case back on the calendar for re-argument, and directed the parties to brief an additional question--whether and under what circumstances the ATS allows courts to address violations of the law of nations that occur outside the United States.
In an opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court held that a presumption against extraterritoriality applies to claims under the ATS, and nothing in ATS rebuts this presumption. Thus, plaintiff-petitioners cannot proceed under the ATS in this case. Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito joined the Chief Justice’s majority opinion. Justice Kennedy filed a concurring opinion. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion, which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgement, which Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan joined.
To discuss the case, we have Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law.