Off the Track or Just Down the Line? From Erie Railroad to Global Governance


Prior to the Supreme Court’s 2012 Kiobel ruling, federal courts had, for three decades, agreed to hear human rights claims by foreign nationals, concerning abuses by foreign governments in their own territories. Some of the same commentators who applauded these cases also endorsed judicial rulings closing American courts to claims against foreign governments for expropriation of property – even when the property was in the United States or owned by Americans. Court rulings on the “federal common law of foreign relations” have zig-zagged since the 1930s. That confusion reflects the displacement of basic principles of common law ordering, which earlier generations identified with natural law. Erie v. Tompkins gave great momentum to that distorting impulse in modern jurisprudence.