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3 lawyers test human rights cases from abroad in Supreme Court

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The ruling quickly caught the attention of John Bellinger, an attorney at the law firm Arnold & Porter. In a series of interviews with Reuters, Bellinger, 52, discussed his actions over the subsequent 18 months. He stressed that he was speaking in a private capacity rather than as a representative of his clients in the Kiobel case.

Bellinger believed Kiobel's lawyers were likely to petition the Supreme Court. Sure enough, in October 2011 the court agreed to take the case on the narrow question of whether corporations could be held liable under the statute.

Bellinger, who had been State Department legal adviser in the Bush administration, had bigger ideas. He wanted to present the court with arguments he had heard from foreign governments while he was at the State Department. Back then, Australia, BritainCanada and others had protested when cases were brought under the Alien Tort Statute. They argued that U.S. courts had no business judging events that took place on foreign soil.

When the Supreme Court accepted the Kiobel case, Bellinger started emailing and calling governments that had opposed previous Alien Tort Statute cases to see whether they wanted to file a brief and whether they already had legal representation. But none of those he contacted were ready to commit, leaving him with no one to represent.

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