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"The U.S. Can't Be the World's Court"



So argued former State Department legal adviser John Bellinger III in the WSJ last week, with special reference to the overreaching, extraterritorial Alien Tort Statute. But it's not as if the efforts to turn the U.S. into the courtroom for the world are slackening at all:

  • As Curtis Bradley and Jack Goldsmith note in the Washington Post, a federal court recently allowed to proceed a lawsuit seeking to blame the evils of South African apartheid on Western multinationals, even despite strong opposition to the suit from both the U.S. government's executive branch and today's duly elected multiracial South African government. Unfortunately, the State Department's up-to-now-staunch opposition to this and similar lawsuits is imperiled by the installment of Harold Koh as legal adviser at Foggy Bottom: "Koh is an intellectual architect and champion of the post-1980 human rights litigation explosion. He joined a brief in the South Africa litigation arguing for broad aiding-and-abetting liability."
  • If asked what should happen to frozen Cuban-government assets under U.S. control, reasonable possibility #1 might be "hold them against the eventual day when a non-tyrannical regime emerges there, it will need help." Reasonable possibility #2 might be "divide the assets among Castro's many victims in some deliberate and step-by-step way, knowing that their injuries are so numerous and severe that even very deserving victims will get only small payments". The answer you'd think makes no sense at all is "encourage first-come-first-served tort lawsuits, so that the first couple of cases to maneuver their way through the legal process get handsome compensation, while no money is left for either #1 or #2". So naturally, the latter is what our legal system is doing, previously in $188 million and $253 million verdicts involving single incidents or families, and now in a new case in which the family of Gustavo Villoldo has been awarded $1.179 billion. One of the plaintiff's lawyers in the case actually boasts that the new award may obstruct a warming of relations between the U.S. and a post-Castro successor regime: "with the opening of relations between the U.S. and Cuba to come, there are debts to society to be paid before that happens" (more on Che Guevara, via).
  • On the brighter side, the Obama administration has joined its Bush predecessors in correctly drawing a line against litigation by some September 11 victims and insurance companies: under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, the courts are no place to pursue theories trying to link the rulers of Saudi Arabia to the terrorist attacks.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.