Supreme Court Should Reject Corporate Impunity for Financing Terrorism

Author: John M. Eubanks, Motley Rice LLC (Petitioners’ Counsel in Jesner v. Arab Bank), Published on: 2 October 2017

Imagine a situation where an international bank with a presence in Manhattan holds accounts for known terrorists and serves as the end-payor to beneficiaries of a fund created for the explicit purpose of supporting an armed uprising typified by suicide bombings and indiscriminate killing of civilians carried out by known terrorist organizations with whom the bank’s accountholders are directly affiliated. Then, picture this international bank being immune from lawsuits filed by the victims of these suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings solely on the basis of its corporate form. This is precisely the issue with which the Supreme Court will grapple in Jesner v. Arab Bank, to be argued before the Court on October 11, 2017. 

Jesner addresses the same question that was raised in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. during the October Term 2011. That question is whether the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), creates a categorical bar to corporate liability for violations of the law of nations, or customary international law…

…The language of the ATS does not explicitly exempt corporations. In fact, the text of the statute…specifically lays out who can sue (“an alien”), but it provides no limitation for who can be sued.

…[W]here a corporation engages in conduct that it knows will facilitate violations of the law of nations such as terrorism, crimes against humanity, or even genocide, can that corporation be held liable under the ATS to the victims of those violations? The answer is a simple “yes” based on the statutory text and common law’s interpretation of tort liability, and it is up to the Supreme Court to make this determination.

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