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Fall 2024 Seminar

Human Rights Litigation in U.S. Courts

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

This seminar will operate as a lab and explore the current landscape of human rights litigation in U.S. courts, examining both the doctrinal and practice dimensions of this litigation. We will look at how modern human rights litigation started, how it has evolved, how it has changed (and not changed), and where we stand now. We will also think about the future prospects of such litigation in the United States and how it connects to other jurisdictions, including in Canada, Europe, South Africa, and elsewhere.

Modern human rights litigation in U.S. courts started in the late 1970s with the resurrection of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). For many, the ATS has defined U.S.-based human rights litigation for the past forty years, but the litigation landscape has changed significantly during over time. While this seminar will take a close look at the past several decades, this will only be the starting point. The seminar will focus the majority of its time on current approaches to human rights litigation, including innovative test cases and a number of statutes that receive far less attention than the ATS has. In particular, we will look at strategic litigation focused on climate justice and corporate accountability and efforts to develop and incubate new legal theories and cases in these practice areas.

The seminar will also give us a chance to connect with day-to-day litigation practice, including the various stages of litigation as well as how litigation fits within broader human rights and climate justice advocacy efforts. Together, we will examine how litigation strategies and techniques have been shared and developed over time and identify common strategies and recurring legal issues that arise across the cases. The seminar will also examine practical issues, including how to work with communities, how to coordinate cases that touch on multiple jurisdictions, how to interact with large teams of lawyers in different countries, and how to address unique cross-cultural and logistical challenges given the transnational nature of these cases.

A limited number of seats in the seminar are reserved for clinical students enrolled in the Human Rights Entrepreneurs Clinic, which gives students the opportunity to work in a lab-like atmosphere to support entrepreneurs in start-ups as well as innovators within existing organizations as they translate their ideas for change into reality. The Clinic operates as a lab, and students have the opportunity to support partners as they develop and incubate ideas to pursue innovative strategic approaches that advance human rights. In particular, the Clinic focuses on frontier litigation related to climate justice and corporate accountability as well as community-centric approaches to business and human rights. The Clinic also supports student entrepreneurs whose work relates to human rights. The course drop deadline for student’s enrolled in the fall clinic is August 23, 2024.