Should the U.S. Supreme Court be the court of the world? In the 18th century, two feuding Frenchmen inspired a one-sentence law that helped launch American human rights litigation into the 20th century. The Alien Tort Statute allowed a Paraguayan woman to find justice for a terrible crime committed in her homeland. But as America reached further and further out into the world, the court was forced to confront the contradictions in our country’s ideology: sympathy vs. sovereignty. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Jesner v. Arab Bank, a case that could reshape the way America responds to human rights abuses abroad. Does the A.T.S. secure human rights or is it a dangerous overreach?
The key voices:
Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr., son of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa Sr.
Dolly Filártiga, sister of Joelito Filártiga
Paloma Calles, daughter of Dolly Filártiga
Peter Weiss, lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights who represented Dolly Filártiga in Filártiga v. Peña-Irala
Katherine Gallagher, lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights
Paul Hoffman, lawyer who represented Kiobel in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum
John Bellinger, former legal adviser for the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council
William Casto, professor at Texas Tech University School of Law
Eric Posner, professor at University of Chicago Law School
Samuel Moyn, professor at Yale University
René Horst, professor at Appalachian State University
The key cases:
1984: Filártiga v. Peña-Irala
2013: Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum
2017: Jesner v. Arab Bank
The key links:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Additional music for this episode by Nicolas Carter.
Special thanks to William J. Aceves, William Baude, Diego Calles, Alana Casanova-Burgess, William Dodge, Susan Farbstein, Jeffery Fisher, Joanne Freeman, Julian Ku, Nicholas Rosenkranz, Susan Simpson, Emily Vinson, Benjamin Wittes and Jamison York. Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr., who appears in this episode, passed away in October 2016.
Leadership support for More Perfect is provided by The Joyce Foundation. Additional funding is provided by The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation.
Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.