Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



U.S. foreign policy--under every Administration--involves promoting respect for human rights around the world. Most of you probably know that the State Department spends a great deal of time and effort abroad, persuading foreign governments to change their human rights behavior and administering programs to advance the cause of human rights. What many of you may not be aware of, though, is that we are now quite frequently occupied "domestically" with suits by foreign plaintiffs in U.S. courts--often arising from conduct that occurred in other countries and has no significant connection to the U.S., that may not be consistent with our governmental policies for promoting human rights.

That is where I will focus my remarks today--in particular, on the Alien Tort Statute,' or ATS, a nearly 220-year-old statute that has been interpreted to allow foreign plaintiffs to bring suit in U.S. courts for violations of international law. The ATS was the subject of a seminal Supreme Court decision in 2004, Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, which outlined the limited reach of the ATS. Still, ATS litigation continues to present complications for U.S. foreign policy and our efforts to promote human rights.