If statutes were zombies, the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 (ATS) would lead the undead who walk among us. By one conventional narrative, the statute arose from the misty eighteenth-century murk, then lay moribund for nearly two centuries until 1980, when the Second Circuit breathed a strange new life into it with Filartiga v. Pena-Irala. That decision then remained a "monstrous" curiosity--generative more academic conferences than cases and more awards of tenure than damages--until 1984, when the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic. The three-way split among the panel in Tel-Oren suggested that there was no consensus that Filartiga had been rightly decided, and the death watch began in earnest, even as the years passed and jurisdiction was sustained in numerous cases that fit the Filartiga model. This issue of the Notre Dame Law Review, in assessing the impact of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroluem, marks the thirtieth anniversary of the statute's first premature obituary.
Ralph G. Steinhardt,
Determining Which Human Rights Claims "Touch and Concern" the United States: Justice Kennedy's Filartiga,
Notre Dame L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.law.nd.edu/ndlr/vol89/iss4/7