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The Arab Bank in Amman, Jordan.

In Jesner v. Arab Bank, No. 16-499, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide this year whether corporations can be sued for international law violations under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 (ATS). Enacted as part of the initial Judiciary Act setting up the federal courts, the ATS lay dormant for 200 years—a virtual Lohengrin of the law, in Judge Henry Friendly’s memorable phrase—until it was rediscovered during the Carter administration and has become a favored tool of plaintiff lawyers to challenge practices in foreign countries alleged to violate international law but having little to no connection to the United States. ATS cases are not brought against the foreign countries themselves because they are protected by sovereign immunity. Nor are they brought against malefactors themselves who are typically judgment-proof.  Rather, they are brought against U.S. and foreign corporations as aiders and abettors because they provide lawful assistance to the foreign countries—not on a U.S. ban—such as by building bridges and highways or processing financial transactions for them.

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