07 May Whale Wars Seeks a New Forum: The U.S. Supreme Court
Sea Shepherd, the activist group that has been aggressively protesting Japanese whaling practices, has filed a very interesting petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. Readers may recall that Sea Shepherd was sued by a group representing Japanese whalers under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Sea Shepherd’s actions of boarding the Japanese whalers and obstructing them could fall within the definition of “piracy” for the purposes of jurisdiction under the ATS.
The best argument for Sea Shepherd is that the definition of piracy adopted by the Ninth Circuit cannot meet the Supreme Court’s “Sosa” standard for requiring ATS claims to be “universal” and “specific” under international law. I think there is some force to this argument, although I find their disparagement of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea’s definition of piracy a little odd. In any event, the question may turn on the definition of “private ends” that UNCLOS requires as an element of piracy. I don’t have a strong view on this, but I refer our readers to Kevin’s critique of the Ninth Circuit conclusion that private ends can include political activism, and Eugene Kontorovich’s contrary view in support of the Ninth Circuit. The petition for certiorari smartly frames this as a “Sosa” issue, which would ordinarily mean that the uncertainty as to the applicability of “private ends” here should defeat ATS jurisdiction. I am not sure the petitioners will get much traction, given the unusual and narrow facts of this case, but no doubt this case is worth watching.