This thesis examines the United States’ Supreme Court’s decision in the Kiobel case and argues the decision unjustly and unreasonably favored the interests of corporations over human rights. In doing so, the Court significantly narrowed the scope of the Alien Tort Statute in a manner which allowed the Court to distance itself from and obscure the inescapable political costs of the Kiobel decision. The Court does so by focusing on technical jurisdictional questions instead of the thorny issue of corporate responsibility for human rights abuses committed or encouraged in the pursuit of profit. Even on the jurisdictional and technical legal questions, the Court is selective, inconsistent, and contradictory in how it applies legal reasoning. This thesis analyzes both the Court’s legal inconsistencies and the politics of its decision. In the early twenty-first century, plaintiffs successfully established jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute in the U.S. federal court system and won damages against corporations for extraterritorial human rights abuses. The Kiobel plaintiffs, former residents of the Ogoniland region of Nigeria, filed a case against the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and the U.K.’s Shell Trade and Transportation Company for aiding and abetting human rights violations and environmental destruction committed by the Nigerian government. I begin by discussing the evolution of Alien Tort jurisprudence in the U.S. and the facts of the Kiobel case. Then, I assemble my conceptual framework drawing on the relationship between law and politics, specifically as it plays out in international law. Next, I explain the Court’s decision in Kiobel. I demonstrate the legal inconsistencies in the decision, followed by a discussion of the larger political issues impacting the decision. I chose this structure not because I view the legal and political questions as distinct, but because I believe this structure best highlights the impact of the unspoken political considerations on the legal decisions made in Kiobel.


Law Department

Degree Name

LLM in International and Comparative Law

Graduation Date


Submission Date

May 2018

First Advisor

Natarajan, Usha

Committee Member 1

Beckett, Jason

Committee Member 2

Skouteris, Thomas


80 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis


The author retains all rights with regard to copyright. The author certifies that written permission from the owner(s) of third-party copyrighted matter included in the thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study has been obtained. The author further certifies that IRB approval has been obtained for this thesis, or that IRB approval is not necessary for this thesis. Insofar as this thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study is an educational record as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 USC 1232g), the author has granted consent to disclosure of it to anyone who requests a copy.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Approval has been obtained for this item