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The next Citizens United, in the view of some of that decision’s most vigorous critics, may have nothing to do with campaign finance or the First Amendment. Instead, corporations in a case the justices will hear this month seek not to spend their money but to avoid doing so by arguing that they have no liability under a 1789 statute for torts committed abroad in violation of international law or U.S. treaties. The case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., involves the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and is scheduled for argument on Feb. 28. Kiobel will be heard in tandem with Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, which raises a similar question involving claims against non-natural persons under a different statute — the Torture Victim Protection Act. Kiobel starkly pits the business community against human rights organizations. “What is being asked of federal courts in these ATS cases is to create an international law not just for American corporations, which would be one thing, but international law for all foreign corporations that we could get jurisdiction over,” said international law scholar Michael Ramsey of the University of San Diego School of Law. “I don’t think that’s a role for federal courts or what the ATS was intended to do.” But Katherine Gallagher of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which pioneered Alien Tort Statute litigation, countered, “Citizens United recognized rights of corporations. It’s important in this case that we’re also discussing obligations of corporations. It is particularly important as we see multinational corporations operating across borders and we see the role corporations now have globally and here at home.”

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