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Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The federal Alien Tort Statute (ATS) originally was drafted to provide a forum for resolution of torts that violated the “law of nations,” as a safeguard against foreign nations holding the United States liable for harm to foreign citizens. Following the Nuremberg trials, the statute took on a second life beyond its original purpose, and in 2004, in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 US 692 (2004), the Supreme Court recognized, in limited circumstances, common law claims for violations of the current law of nations. Now the Supreme Court, in Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, held on April 24 that the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. 1350, does not apply to foreign corporations. In so doing, it resolved the open question in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, 569 U.S. 108 (2013), which was decided on the ground that all the acts complained of occurred outside the United States. A split in the circuits developed over whether the ATS applied to foreign corporations, and Jesner has now resolved that by affirming the Second Circuit’s view that it does not. Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority, though there was not unanimity of all portions of his opinion.

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