The Supreme Court will consider whether the law permits the federal government to arrest alleged criminals or terrorists abroad, with or without the other country’s consent. The court will review a federal appeals court’s decision that upheld a damage award to a Mexican national who was seized in Mexico at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s behest and delivered to the United States to stand trial on drug-related murder charges, the Washington Post reports.
The action increases the justices’ involvement in the controversies around the U.S. war on terrorism and could produce a decision on the allocation of foreign policy power between the president and the courts. The court reesponded to a Bush administration request that it rule in favor of executive power. It was a contrast to another intervention in the war on terrorism, when the court agreed to hear an appeal by suspected terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base despite a Bush administration plea to stay out of an area where the executive branch should dominate.
The 1789 statute the court will interpret in the case has been used to sue both foreign and American individuals for alleged violations of human rights abroad, and to sue multinational firms for their alleged complicity in the human rights abuses of countries where they invest. The statute, the Alien Tort Act, gives the U.S. district courts “jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” Though rarely invoked throughout most of the nation’s history, the law has been interpreted by several federal appeals courts to open the federal courts to suits for monetary damages based on alleged violations worldwide of internationally recognized human rights.