On Monday, October 1, the Supreme Court began its new term, and first up in the docket was a major international human rights case. Just how big a deal is this case? Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman explained recently, “In the balance first is the future of human rights litigation in U.S. courts—and whether torture committed by foreigners abroad is any of our business.”
The case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, has a complicated history and contains many legal technicalities (and yes, does have something to do with pirates), but here’s a quick summary:
So, the lawyers went back to Court on Monday. (Hoffman and Sullivan represented the two sides again, but the Department of Justice has essentially switched sides, now arguing against Kiobel on this extra-territoriality point.)
How do things look? In Slate, Emily Bazelon was not very optimistic: “The disturbing thing was that even though the morning went better for the Nigerian plaintiffs than I expected, it will be very hard for them to ever get their day in an American court.” On SCOTUS blog, Lyle Denniston argued that ambiguity, rather than certainty, marked the day’s oral arguments: “Where to draw lines short of shutting down all but a few, U.S.-related cases, however, was quite elusive as the hour-long hearing proceeded. Each of the three lawyers met, in turn, a barrage of skepticism from across the bench.”
On Tuesday, October 2, American University-Washington College of Law’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law held a panel discussion on the previous day’s arguments in Kiobel. Paul Hoffman, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Katie Redford, co-founder of EarthRights International, John B. Bellinger III, former legal advisor to the State Department, and Andrew Grossman, legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, took part; Professor Steve Vladeck of AU-WCL moderated.
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