Saturday, March 03, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #46 - Part 5

Outrage of the Week: The Supreme Court appears ready to rule that corporations can't be held responsible for the role crimes against humanity in other countries because they are not "individuals."

On Tuesday, February 28, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit accusing the multinational oil corporation Royal Dutch Shell of involvement in gross abuses of human rights.

In the 1990s, Shell and some other firms wanted to do oil exploration in the Niger River delta. People in the region, fearing the inevitable environmental damage, resisted. Shell and others apparently enlisted the Nigerian military dictatorship in suppressing that resistance. The plaintiffs are relatives of seven Nigerians who were killed in the resulting violence.

The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Statute, a US law dating back to 1789 which in essence says that a foreign national can sue you here for violations of international law. In a way, it resembles the legal principle in criminal law of "universal jurisdiction," where certain crimes under international law are considered an affront to all and everywhere, not just to those within the country where the crime occurred.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the charges of torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions, and other crimes against humanity clearly fit the purpose of the Alien Tort law - a tort being a civil, as opposed to a criminal, wrong.

During the oral arguments, the conservatives on the Court seemed to be looking for ways to dismiss the suit without considering the merits. For example, Sam Alito asked what this has to do with the US - even though the law does not require such a connection.

Anthony Kennedy, for his part, groused that "No other nation in the world permits" lawsuits charging corporations with complicity in crimes against humanity - even though, if memory serves, in death penalty cases Kennedy has said that he doesn't care what courts in other countries say.

Revealingly, he also said in the opening moments of the oral arguments that nothing in international law "recognizes corporate responsibility" for human rights abuses, echoing the argument of the lawyer for the Shell Oil that it couldn't be held responsible because treaties refer to “individual liability” and, well, corporations are not "individuals," are they, and in fact echoing the argument before it was made.

The other right wingers on the Court appeared inclined to agree with that claim.

So what does this mean? It means that when in the case of Citizens United it was of benefit to corporations to be "persons," with first amendment rights that enable them to drown the political process in unlimited amounts of cash, then the Supreme Court finds they are persons. But in this case, when it's of benefit to corporations to not be persons so they can avoid responsibility for their greedy and bloody participation in crimes against humanity, then the court finds that they are not persons.

And despite legalistic nit-picking and parsing about how "if you really understood the law you would see the two are completely different," blah blah etc., etc., the fact remains that's exactly what this means.

That is our Supreme Court - and it is the Outrage of the Week.

Sources:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/corporate-personhood-supreme-court-alien-tort-statute_n_1305226.html
http://www.vanguardngr.com/2012/02/us-supreme-court-tackles-shell-on-human-rights-abuses/
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-court-torture-20120229,0,1578783.story

2 comments:

West said...

So, crimes against humanity- you mean of course, anything but terminating the life of the unborn right? I mean, the unborn can't count right?

LarryE said...

I said this before, but apparently I have to repeat it slowly:

There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. An. "Unborn. Child."

If. It. Is. Not. Born. It. Is. Not. A. Child.

When you start routinely referring to caterpillars as "unborn butterflies," you might have a point. Until then, you don't.

 
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