Kiobel and Academic Fallability

Alongside the Health Care Act decision, Kiobel is an example of the professoriate failing to predict the issues that would be taken seriously by the Court both on substance and style. When the Second and Ninth Circuit began questioning “foreign cubed” suits a few years ago, the great majority of scholars dismissed such claims as entirely spurious. The conventional wisdom was very much on the side of universal jurisdiction over corporate human rights abuses. Indeed, such cases had been around for a few decades without much controversy over the universal jurisdiction aspect per se.

Most surprising about Kiobel is the Court’s unanimity. Everyone, including myself, predicted a decision closely divided on ideological lines. Yet ll nine justices seem entirely on board with ending multinational corporate suits. (While Justice Breyer’s concurrence would leave room for Filartiga-style suits where the defendant resides in the U.S., such cases against individuals have largely fallen out of favor with plaintiffs’ lawyers.) The misapprehension of the vote of course relates back to the merits. Many scholars thought the foreign cubed issue a conservative invention to roll back human rights litigation. That position is now hard to maintain.

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