December 22, 2014

The Kiobel case

For more than three decades survivors of human rights abuses in foreign countries have turned to U.S. federal courts to seek justice. On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case that could make that impossible.

The case pits a Nigerian widow against a multinational oil company. Esther Kiobel and others say Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell) helped the Nigerian government commit human rights violations against her husband, who was executed in 1995. Shell has denied the allegations and argues that cases involving foreign governments committing atrocities in their own countries do not belong in the U.S. court system at all.

That the justices are considering the sweeping question of whether an entire class of lawsuits can be heard in the United States can be traced to briefs filed by three lawyers whose clients aren’t even involved in the case.

How their briefs came to be sheds light on one of the most closely watched cases before the Supreme Court this term and shows how the efforts of private lawyers pursuing a public policy goal can have momentous consequences. Read the rest of the article.

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