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January 12, 2005

JAN. 20: Paul Hoffman speaks on 2004 Supreme Court case that allows foreign citizens to bring human rights suits in U.S. courts

The law school’s Public Interest student group will host noted California litigator Paul Hoffman at a free public lecture at 7:30 P.M. on Thursday, January 20 in Room 175 of the Knight Law Center, 1515 Agate Street, Eugene.  He will discuss Pirates and Dictators: The Alien Tort Claims Act and its Impact on International Law.

Last March, Hoffman led the team that argued on behalf of the respondent in the hotly-debated Supreme Court case, Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain. It involved a 215-year-old statute that has increasingly been used by foreign citizens to bring suit against human rights violators in United States Courts. In its June decision, the Supreme Court narrowed – but did not close the door to continued use of the statute in cases of genocide, torture, kidnapping and similar abuses.
“Every other Alien Tort Claims Act litigation forever is going to be referring to the analysis in this case,” Hoffman said in a July interview at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

The recent broad use of the Alien Torts Claims Act has been championed by human rights groups, and viewed suspiciously by multinational business groups and the Bush Administration.

The 1789 statute allowed aliens to use the district courts to sue for actions committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States, and was probably enacted to handle safe-conduct and piracy cases of the time.  The law gathered dust until the 1980s; since then it has been widely invoked – from the Korean Comfort Women seeking justice from Japan to South African citizens suing American corporations that cooperated with apartheid.

The Alvarez case arose out of the 1990 kidnapping of Humberto Alvarez-Machain by fellow Mexican nationals who were hired by the Drug Enforcement Administration to bring him to the U.S. for trial. Alvarez-Machain was suspected of having a hand in the murder of an informant. He was acquitted of criminal charges and subsequently filed suit against his kidnappers under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

Paul Hoffman is an attorney with the Los Angeles firm of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP. His practice areas include constitutional, civil rights, and general business litigation. From 1984 to 1994, he was legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. Additionally, Hoffman has been an associate professor at Southwestern University School of Law and has taught at other law schools.

Hoffman’s public lecture is one in an occasional series on Global Justice at Work sponsored by the Public Interest Public Service (PIPS) Program  at the University of Oregon School of Law and the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics

– E.S. 1/12/05


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