Jonathan Herman

Nationwide Law School Partnership Project

Jonathan Herman

ICAR and EarthRights International have launched a nationwide project partnering with law schools to research state law and propose recommendations for legal reform around corporate accountability in their state.

This project is in part a response to the recent Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum. The Court held that human rights cases can only be brought in U.S. federal court under the Alien Tort Statute if the actions “touch and concern” the United States “with sufficient force.” While the decision left the door open to some cases going forward in federal court, the Court did not give much explanation of what this test means or how other courts should apply it.

The practical effect of the decision has been that many cases that have an international element, including cases against U.S. corporations, have been dismissed.

Now, many human rights cases against corporations will proceed in state court. Victims can bring claims for assault and battery or wrongful death (as opposed to torture, genocide, or war crimes, which they could bring in federal court). Still, litigating in state courts presents many unique obstacles for victims of international human rights abuses. Targeted legislative amendments can make it easier for victims to sue in state courts.

ICAR is partnering with law schools to provide research support for human rights cases at the state level. Students will also examine their state law and propose recommendations of how the law could be improved to better protect human rights victims.

Project timeline:

Phase 1:

  • Research state law litigation issues and draft research memos.

  • Research state law legislative issues and draft legislation.

  • Research state legislators and approach allies to introduce and support bills.

  • Build a movement around the legislation; work with other organizations to help garner support.

Phase 2:

  • Introduce bills.

  • Legislative advocacy around state level legislation and federal legislation.

  • Tracking state level litigation developments.

Schools currently involved in the project include: