Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The United States Supreme Court hears oral argument today in the case of Samanter v. Yousuf, docket number 08-1555. The case, on appeal from the Fourth Circuit, explores the breadth of foreign sovereign immunity under U.S. law.
The defendant in the underlying civil case, Mohamed Ali Samantar (sometimes "Samatar"), was Minister of Defense (1980-1986) and then Prime Minister (1987-1990) of Somalia. The plaintiffs are a group of former Somali nationals who allege that soldiers, intelligence officials, and other government officials under Samantar's command engaged in systematic torture and extrajudicial killings. At trial, Samantar invoked the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. 1604, asserting that sovereign immunity from civil suit extended to him, as a former head of government. The trial court agreed, but on appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that the Act extends immunity to neither current nor former government officials.
Fifteen amicus briefs have been filed in the case, including -- of particular interest to this blog -- one by "Professors of International Litigation and Foreign Relations Law" and one by "Professors of Public International Law and Comparative Law."
For longer analysis, see the Legal Information Institute's discussion at http://topics.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/08-1555. For links to all party and amicus briefs see SCOTUSwiki at http://www.scotuswiki.com/index.php?title=Samantar_v._Bashe_Abdi_Yousuf.