Eric Posner on the Alien Tort Statute

The United States Can’t Be the World’s Courthouse
Eric Posner
Slate
April 24, 2013

Two things America is known for—its love of lawsuits and its delight in meddling in the affairs of other countries—led to a strange form of litigation in which foreigners bring suits in U.S. courts against other foreigners, for human rights violations in foreign countries. Last week’s 9-0 Supreme Court ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum has finally put an end to this litigation. Human rights groups complain that the decision means that foreign governments and corporations will be able to violate human rights with impunity. But cases like Kiobel, in which a group of Nigerians sued a Nigerian corporation and its Dutch and British corporate parents over their role in human rights abuses in Nigeria, never led to real human rights enforcement. In more than 30 years of litigation involving hundreds of cases, hardly any money went to victims. The Supreme Court got rid of a popular but unworkable idea that U.S. courts can be used to police behavior around the world.

Like so many American legal absurdities, the story begins at the countr