Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. Decided

June 12, 2012

Whether aliens who suffered severe human rights abuses abroad can sue those responsible for the abuses in federal court under the Alien Tort Statute.

The Alien Tort Statute (ATS) was adopted by Congress as part of the first Judiciary Act in 1791. It gives federal courts jurisdiction to hear cases brought by aliens alleging torts in violation of the law of nations (now known as customary international law). The question initially presented to the Court in this case was whether defendants could be sued under the ATS. The Court then ordered reargument on the broader question of "whether and under what circumstances" the ATS allows U.S. courts to recognize a cause of action for violations of the law of nations that occur abroad. In its amicus brief, the ACLU endorses the view that the ATS is not limited to human rights abuses occurring in the U.S. More specifically, we explain why the presumption against extraterritoriality that the Court has employed as an aid to statutory construction does not apply to the ATS.

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