"Recently, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in 'Jesner v. Arab Bank PLC'--a case filed under the Alien Tort Statute against one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle East. Originally passed by the First Congress as part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Alien Tort Statute provides federal district courts with 'jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.' This single-sentence statute has been described as 'unlike any other in American law' and 'unknown to any other legal system in the world.' Despite its brevity, questions about jurisdiction under the statute have been the subject of debate for several decades (as discussed in this CRS primer.) In Jesner, the Supreme Court is set to address an issue that has caused a recent split among U.S. circuit courts of appeals: can corporations be liable for torts in violation of the law of nations under the Alien Tort Statute?"
CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10025
Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/index.html