Susan’s Theory of the Secret Fifth Amendment in Kiobel, as explained via gchat

Michael:
I had a thought
The entire United States argument against extraterritorial application in this case is built around something like act-of-state doctrine.
Why don’t we just apply act-of-state doctrine?

Susan:
You could, and it should be part of it. But even Nigeria didn’t actually make a law saying human rights abuses is totes okay.
And also “but the country said it was okay” is not a get out of jail free card once you start with the genocide stuff.

Michael:
Well, wait.
Act of state is just the judgment of the legality of another nation’s conduct, right?

Susan:
Yes, but we’re not (necessarily) judging another nation’s conduct, for one — it’s a Kirkpatrick situation. And second, I don’t think the purposes of the act of state doctrine are supported if it’s interpreted to require a court to go “whelp, it’s not my place to say that another country shouldn’t commit genocide.”

Michael:
No

Susan:
Act of State = choice of law.

Michael:
Pause
I’m saying that the United States’ argument is built around an idea that seems roughly equivalent to act-of-state.

“HERE, ALTHOUGH PETITIONERS’
SUIT IS AGAINST PRIVATE CORPORATIONS ALLEGED TO
HAVE AIDED AND ABETTED HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES BY THE GOVERNMENT
OF NIGERIA, ADJUDICATION OF THE SUIT WOULD NECESSARILY
ENTAIL A DETERMINATION ABOUT WHETHER THE NIGERIAN
GOVERNMENT OR ITS AGENTS HAVE TRANSGRESSED LIMITS IMPOSED
BY INTERNATIONAL LAW”

Susan:
Ohhh, no I’d disagree with you. I have a half-written post on it, but I’d argue the U.S.’s position incorporates the international component of the 5th amendment.

Susan:
Yeah, but that’s foreign affairs stuff. Act of State requires a court to select the foreign sovereign’s law for the court’s rules of decision.

Michael:
?!

Susan:
So it’s kinda where jus cogens comes into play. Nigeria can’t make a law saying “lol genocide is okay.”

Michael:
This is the definition I’m familiar with:
“This doctrine says that a nation is sovereign within its own borders, and its domestic actions may not be questioned in the courts of another nation.”
Wait
I understand now

Susan:
That’s the one sentence version, but it doesn’t mean that U.S. courts are categorically forbidden from questioning foreign countries’ acts.

Michael:
We’re talking about two conceptions of the act-of-state doctrine.
Mine was the broader one.
Yours is the more limited Supreme Court version.
Fair.

Susan:
“As we said in Ricaud, “the act within its own boundaries of one sovereign State …
becomes … a rule of decision for the courts of this country.” 246 U.S. at 310. Act of state
issues only arise when a court must decide–that is, when the outcome of the case turns upon–
the effect of official action by a foreign sovereign. When that question is not in the case,
neither is the act of state doctrine.”
I agree with you, I think, as far as aiding and abetting cases go.
Maybe for different reasons, though.

Michael:
I’m not saying that I think Kiobel actually implicates act of state.
I’m just saying that the U.S. position sounds much like act of state, such that there is no need to make new law if the U.S. is correct.

Susan:
Yeah, agreed.
I think the U.S. is 100% right.

Michael:
But…
Ugh
The U.S. thinks that there IS a need to make new law DESPITE the fact that we have act of state doctrine to solve the very problem that the U.S. uses to support the supposed need for new law.

Susan:
Okay wait I’m misunderstanding, then. What new law does the US think is needed?

Michael:
1) The U.S. believes that the Court should hold that the ATS does not apply extraterritorially in cases involving corporations.
2) It substantiates that position at least in part by invoking a notion that sounds just like act of state doctrine.

Michael:
See the United States’ distinction between “individual foreign perpetrators” and corporations

Susan:
When found residing in the United States.
An individual foreigner abroad (that somehow still had sufficient US contacts) would be in the same place.

Michael:
Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the U.S. is against ATS liability for the extraterritorial acts of corporations that do not have their principal place of business or headquarters here

Susan:
Yeah, part of the equation is subsidy-to-parent jurisdictional veil piercing.

Michael:
Maybe I was over-emphasizing the U.S.’s use of the word “individual.”

Susan:
This is why it’s all a 5th Amendment Due Process issue. The reasonableness of the US’s adjudicative jurisdiction here is both unconstitutional and in violation of international law.

My take was that individual humans can usually only really “be” in one spot at one time. Corporations are in many places at once. So a corporation’s existence in the US is not dispositive, like a human’s is.

Michael:
I see.
An interesting argument, but the U.S. is making that argument as a matter of international law and foreign policy, not from a Fifth Amendment perspective, no?

Susan:
Okay so maybe they don’t specifically say it, but it’s in there if you squint hard enough.

Michael:
Hahaha.
The “secret” Fifth Amendment argument?

Susan:
The Fifth Amendment in Exile.
Basically, the ATS is open ended, and hands out causes of action for int’l law violations like candy (pretend all of this is true)
But the court, before exercising jurisdiction, still has to consider: Personal jurisdiction, exhaustion of remedies, forum non conveniens,
Act of State, international comity, choice of law, political question doctrine, foreign affairs/case-specific judicial deference, and in corporate cases, corporate/subsidy-parent veil piercing issues.
All of these doctrines have some Due Process consideration behind them. (Separation of powers for a lot of them, too, but due process is a biggie.)
Even if the text of the ATS creates an opening for these suits, it’s just a grant of subject matter jurisdiction. All of the Due Process jurisdictional questions must be considered separately.
Like they would in any foreign-defendant case, but because of the subject matter, the judicial due process doctrines are firing on all cylinders.
So when you have a pirate residing in the U.S. being sued for torture and genocide he did abroad, and his home country says “fuck that bastard, you can sue him,” and the U.S. political branches are going, “fuck that bastard, you can sue him,” then the due process concerns evaporate.

Michael:
Interesting.
I still don’t think the United States is making that argument
But ok.

Susan:
I think in section C they are getting at it,
even if they don’t invoke the magic words of Due Process. But everything the US is counseling the court to consider is a doctrine that was invented either to serve due process, separation of powers, or both.

Michael:
You should write a post
A quick post.

Susan:
Maybe at lunch I’ll play around with getting my other post to work in WP.
Or maybe I’ll be uber-lazy and just copy and paste the chat.

Michael:
There you go.

2 thoughts on “Susan’s Theory of the Secret Fifth Amendment in Kiobel, as explained via gchat

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