Busi­ness li­a­bil­ity eyed over vic­tims over­seas

The Mercury News - - Other Views - By Mark Sher­man The As­so­ci­ated Press

The Supreme Court ap­pears ready to rule out law­suits in U.S. courts against busi­nesses by for­eign vic­tims of hu­man rights abuses and ex­trem­ist at­tacks.

A case ar­gued Wed­nes­day pit­ted Is­raeli vic­tims of at­tacks in Is­rael, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1990s and 2000s against Jor­dan­based Arab Bank. The vic­tims claim that the bank helped fi­nance the at­tacks.

The is­sue is whether the for­eign­ers can use an 18th­cen­tury law to hold the bank ac­count­able for its role.

The court al­ready has lim­ited the abil­ity of for­eign vic­tims to sue un­der the 1789 Alien Tort Statute.

It seemed from the ar­gu­ment that the five con­ser­va­tive jus­tices could find that cor­po­ra­tions can­not be sued at all un­der that law. Such an out­come would be an­other blow to a more than 30-year-old strat­egy by hu­man rights lawyers to use civil suits to pur­sue in­di­vid­u­als who may be re­spon­si­ble for tor­ture and other atroc­i­ties, plus com­pa­nies with op­er­a­tions in coun­tries with poor hu­man rights records.

“My un­der­stand­ing is that this sort of re­lief is fairly unique,” Chief Jus­tice John Roberts said of the ef­forts to hold busi­nesses li­able un­der the law. Roberts did not seem to be per­suaded by lawyer Jef­frey Fisher’s ef­forts to per­suade him oth­er­wise.

Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy said lit­tle dur­ing the ar­gu­ment, but he did sug­gest that al­low­ing cor­po­ra­tions to be sued un­der the law might be un­fair.

Ques­tions from the lib­eral jus­tices in­di­cated they would vote for al­low­ing the law­suit against the bank to pro­ceed.

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