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News Link • Justice and Judges

Corporate Personhood Case Forces Supreme Court To Hack New Path

• Mike Sacks

WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument on whether corporations, like real people, can be held liable in American courts for international human rights violations.

The issue has divided four appeals courts over the past year and a half, as Democrat-appointed judges have uniformly voted for corporate liability while all but one Republican-appointed judge has come down for corporate immunity.

If that pattern holds in the Supreme Court, then the five justices appointed by Republican presidents will surely be hit with more accusations of pro-business bias: Having all voted in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to extend to corporations the First Amendment right of actual people to independently spend unlimited sums in this country's elections, they will in the current case have refused to hold corporations responsible, as real people are, for their roles in atrocities abroad.

That kind of application of corporate personhood would be enough to make a casual observer's head explode.

Legally, however, Tuesday's case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, is totally unrelated to the Citizens United decision. What the Court decides, at least in theory, should have everything to do with how the justices approach international law.

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