Human Rights in US Courts: Alien Tort Claims Act Litigation after Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain
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In Filartiga v. Pena-Irala (1980), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that victims of human rights violations could sue their oppressors civilly in US courts under an eighteenth century law now called the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA). Controversy raged over the Filartiga decision and the proper interpretation of the ATCA for 24 years. Then in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain (2004), the Supreme Court issued its first ATCA decision. This essay analyzes the effect of the Sosa decision on the development of human rights law in US courts. I find that while the federal judiciary is responding to some of the Supreme Court’s directives, lower courts still retain a great deal of discretion in handling ATCA cases.