Roberts notes Solicitor General’s Changed Position on Alien Tort Statute

April 17th, 2013

In Kiobel, Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that the SG changed how it reads the ATS:

The Solicitor General, having once read the opinion to stand for the proposition that an “ATS suit could be brought against American citizens for breaching neutrality with Britain only if acts did not take place in a foreign country,” Supp. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 8, n. 1 (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted), now suggests the opinion “could have been meant to encompass . . . conduct [occurring within the foreign territory],” id., at 8.

Justices Scalia and Roberts raised this point during oral arguments. Roberts asked what deference is owed to the changed position. In this case, not much.

Attorney General Bradford’s opinion defies a definitive reading and we need not adopt one here. Whatever its precise meaning, it deals with U. S. citizens who, by partic- ipating in an attack taking place both on the high seas and on a foreign shore, violated a treaty between the United States and Great Britain. The opinion hardly suffices to counter the weighty concerns underlying the presumption against extraterritoriality.