Business liability eyed over victims overseas
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.