WSJ News Article on Alien Tort Statute Cases

WSJ News Article on Alien Tort Statute Cases

The WSJ has a news story (Nathan Koppel, “Arcane Law Brings Conflicts From Overseas to U.S. Courts,” Thursday, August 27, 2009) on the rise of ATS suits against corporate defendants.

It quotes Curt Bradley, but interestingly (I thought, for an area traditionally dominated by academics), it has more quotes from practicing lawyers, including John Bellinger, Center for Constitutional Rights’s Katherine Gallagher, Paul Hoffman, and several others.  It is scrupulously even-handed in having both pro-plaintiffs and pro-corporate defendants in the article, for-and-against, for-and-against.  There’s nothing earth-shaking about it for those of us who follow this area, but I suppose a sign of the changing times that these suits against corporate defendants have produced a corporate defense bar.  What about disputes over corporate liability?  The article says:

The litigation has proven controversial. Some legal experts claim that opportunistic plaintiffs’ lawyers have seized on the long-dormant law to enrich themselves. Knotty geopolitical issues, they say, are better left to Congress and the White House, not unelected federal judges. But human-rights lawyers counter that victims of abuses often can’t obtain justice in foreign courts, making alien tort suits their only recourse. Both sides agree on one thing: Courts increasingly are willing to consider alien-tort suits and to force companies to answer for their behavior overseas.

“Think of a troubled spot in the world, and it likely has given rise to alien tort litigation,” says Curtis Bradley, a Duke University School of Law professor.

Adds human rights plaintiffs’ lawyer Paul Hoffman:

Most federal districts now allow suits against corporations for the same types of human-rights violations that can be brought against individuals — torture, extrajudicial killings, slavery-like practices, war crimes, says Paul Hoffman, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in filing alien tort suits.

If you’re looking for a short, even-handed introduction to the current world of corporate ATS litigation – for a basic public international law class, for example – this is a pretty easy place to begin.

International Human Rights Law
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Martin Holterman
Martin Holterman

Since it came up in another OJ thread, maybe I should simply ask:

Do you think that corporations are a different animal in international law than individuals? I.e. Do you think the application of IL rules against “torture, extrajudicial killings, slavery-like practices, war crimes” to legal persons is categorically impossible, instead of simply depending on whether a corporation is capable, by its nature, of fulfilling all the elements of the crime?

Martin Holterman

OK, good luck with that. If there’s anything I can do, just let me know… 😉

(Actually, in all seriousness, my current research is in economics. One of my undergraduate specialisations was even in pre-crisis finance. So I certainly look forward to reading your stuff.)

Jeffrey Davis

I’d be very interested in hearing more about the ATS conference.  I wrote a book on the ATS, “Justice Across Borders,” (Cambridge University Press 2008), (which might also be worth considering for international law students studying the ATS).


[…] Kenneth Anderson and Kevin Jon Heller trade shots over a Wall Street Journal article about the increased use of the Alien Torts Statute to pursue corporate defendants.  Please note Executive Watch’s own Curtis Bradley, now appearing in the article. […]