ecause of a gradual shift in the case law involving an 18th century anti-piracy statute — the Alien Tort Claims Act — flotillas of foreign litigants have set course for American venues, seeking to hold corporations liable for harms suffered at the hands of others far from America’s shores. These suits present significant risks for companies that do business abroad, and they challenge the ability of courts and litigants to fairly and manageably present cases when documents and witnesses are unreliable or unavailable and the governing legal standards are imprecise, at best.

In 1789 — when Barbary pirates represented a serious threat to American commerce — Congress passed a statute now known as the Alien Tort Claims Act. It now reads: “[D]istrict courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” 18 U.S.C. 1350.