Samantar v. Yousuf, Last Minute Thoughts

There are two questions in Samantar v. Yousuf that I suspect almost certainly will not get addressed in the morning, at least not in any substantive way, but I’ll post them here now in the hope that I am wrong and I’ll be able to talk about them in greater length tomorrow. These would be:

(1) The statehood of Somalia v. Somaliland, and the ability of the former to adopt the acts of officials that took place in a territory it no longer has any control over, outside of legal fiction. Obviously even if they do bother with the question, the Court will end up punting it to the political branches and making their recognition the be-all end-all, but I would still love to see statehood get addressed in one of the Justice’s opinions. Even better would be for the Court to address the factual issues regarding Somalia or Somaliland’s existence or non-existence, but I won’t hold out hope for that.

(2) The Constitutional question of FSIA’s purported grant of personal jurisdiction over state officials via service of process. If petitioner succeeds on his arguments, there could be a problem with FSIA’s provision for service of process over foreign states — namely, service of process (done anywhere, not just tag-service) is considered sufficient for obtaining personal jurisdiction over a state. But if officials = state for purposes of the FSIA, allowing mere service to create personal jurisdiction for foreign official defendants would create a Constitutional due process issue.

I mostly want #2 to be addressed because I would love to see the Supreme Court finally address the giant gaping inconsistency in U.S. law that is our personal jurisdiction jurisprudence. Since personal jurisdiction is a question of Fifth (or Fourteenth) Amendment due process, if petitioner prevails, we could, at least theoretically, wind up with some interesting issues of the “Constitutional rights” of foreign states that have never had contact with the U.S.

At any rate, I’m sure there will be some amusement to be had tomorrow, out of the slight irony in the case that the side most heavily relying on the support of international law and argues that the court should find it has expansive powers to decide the questions involved is the side hoping that the Court does not find jurisdiction to hear an ATS/TVPA claim, while the side that is calling for a strict adherence to the separation of powers and arguing that any judicial interference would result in Dire Consequences is the side hoping that the court does hear the underlying claim. Strange bedfellows, and all that.

For what it’s worth, I’m rooting for the respondent. Jurisdiction should be found here — to do otherwise would lead to absurd results. That a given defendant claims to have been some sort of official office holder for some sort of government that may have once existed is not sufficient to give him a blanket claim to immunity in U.S. courts. Rather than making this a jurisdictional matter, this case should be heard on a substantive level, with the act of state doctrine helping to provide the proper rules of decision.

Plus, finally, the fact Samantar cherry picks between the multitude of “Somali” governments to find a couple that support his claim is hilarious. If you’re trying to claim sovereign immunity, referring to “the transitional governments,” plural, of your supposed State does not much help your case. If any warlord in Somalia with enough followers can claim to be the sovereign, why on earth should the FSIA or international law believe that Samantar managed to siphon off some immunity for himself?

-Susan

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