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To function with adequate predictability and efficiency, the international community must maintain orderly relations among its members. This necessarily requires that members develop international norms of behavior and accept a certain loss of their otherwise exclusive sovereignty. Nowhere has the enforcement of international norms been more pronounced than in the area of human rights. International human rights norms directly challenge conventional notions of exclusive state sovereignty and unilateral action. The United States has long been a motive force behind the international human rights movement, opening its federal courts to redress human rights violations committed domestically or abroad. Specifically, federal courts have used the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) to exercise jurisdiction over human rights violations and grant relief when warranted. In the aftermath of September 11, however, the United States has found itself in a dilemma: how to encourage the development of human rights jurisprudence around the world without making itself liable for alleged human rights violations committed pursuant to the war on terror. For nearly half a century the United States Supreme Court has willingly extended its jurisdiction to victims of human rights violations. Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, however, represents a departure from this long-standing practice and limits access to U.S. federal courts in human rights cases.

This casenote will examine the Supreme Court's decision in Sosa and the manner in which that decision defines the limits of the FTCA and the ATS. First, the casenote will review the background facts and procedural history of Sosa, including the decisions of the district and appellate courts. Second, it will consider the Court's treatment of FTCA claims when the alleged injury occurs in a foreign country, paying particular attention to the Court's rejection of the "headquarters doctrine" as a means of exercising jurisdiction over such claims and imposing liability on the United States and its employees. Third, it will describe the Court's refusal to expand the reach of the ATS beyond a limited and highly specific set of claims, most of which relate to violations of the law of nations, as that body of law was understood in 1789 when the ATS was adopted. Finally, the casenote will evaluate Sosa in light of post-9/11 domestic security and American foreign policy concerns and explore the potential effects of the Sosa decision beyond its immediate impact on the litigants.


First published in the Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law. Posted with permission.