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Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain

Court Type: U.S. Supreme Court
Status: Closed (Judgment)
Last Update: March 29, 2004

What's at Stake

Reviewing whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to hear human rights claims brought by foreign citizens under the Alien Tort Claims Act. DECIDED

Francisco Sosa was one of several Mexican nationals acting at the direcction of DEA officials in the United States who forcibly abducted Dr. Humberto Alvarez-Machain from his office in Guadalajara, Mexico, held him incommunicado for 24 hours, then transported him to El Paso, Texas, where he was transferred to the custody of federal officers. Following his acquittal on charges that he had participated in the murder of a DEA agent working in Mexico, Alvarez-Machain sued Sosa under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which was adopted in 1789 and permits an alien to sue in the United States for “a violation of the law of nations.” Ultimately, Alvarez-Machain was awarded $25,000 in damages. Sosa now contends that the Alien Tort Claims Act does not create a right to sue and that the lawsuit brought by Alvarez-Machain should have been dismissed. That position, however, has been rejected by every federal court to rule on the issue, including the courts in this case, because it is inconsistent with the language of the statute, ignores the historical context in which the statute was written, and violates controlling international human rights norms. The ACLU is serving as co-counsel for Alvarez-Machain.

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