Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a new order in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which was heard last Tuesday. The order requires that new briefs be filed by both sides on this issue: "Whether and under what circumstances the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, allows courts to recognize a cause of action for violations of the law of nations occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States." The case will be reargued in the 2012-2013 term.
This unusual step by the Court raises the possibility that cases arising under the ATS could be limited to those occurring on the territory of the United States or in nonsovereign spaces (res communis), such as the high seas. This, in turn, would essentially mean the end of international human rights litigation in U.S. federal courts.