Foreword: After Kiobel: International Human Rights Litigation in State Courts and Under State Law

Christopher A. Whytock, UC Irvine School of Law
Donald Earl Childress III, Pepperdine University School of Law
Michael D. Ramsey, University of San Diego School of Law


Litigation in domestic courts is only one of many ways to promote and protect international human rights, but it has received much attention from lawyers and scholars. Attention has focused above all on litigation in the U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Statute (the “ATS”). However, plaintiffs are facing growing barriers to ATS human rights litigation in the U.S. federal courts, and it is likely that the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. will further restrict this type of litigation — perhaps substantially.

This Essay provides an overview of the legal issues surrounding one possible alternative human rights litigation strategy: human rights litigation in U.S. state courts or under U.S. state law. It highlights both the attractions and the limits of this strategy, and it identifies the challenging legal issues that this strategy will raise for judges, lawyers and scholars, ranging from choice of law and extraterritoriality, to jurisdiction and federal preemption. This Essay also serves as the foreword to a symposium issue of the UC Irvine Law Review that contains articles by leading practitioners and scholars of human rights, international law, and conflict of laws providing in-depth analysis of these and other aspects of human rights litigation in state courts and under state law.