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Friday, November 02, 2012

Fourth Circuit relies on Professor Chimene Keitner Articles

On November 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit relied on two articles by Professor Chimene Keitner in Yousuf v. Samantar, an important decision on foreign official immunity. Victims of human rights abuses in Somalia sued Samantar, its former prime minister and defense minister, in federal district court in Virginia, where Samantar currently lives. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Samantar’s immunity was not governed by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and remanded to the district court to decide whether he was immune from suit under federal common law. The U.S. State Department filed a determination that Samantar was not immune, to which the district court deferred. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit relied on Professor Keitner for the proposition that courts should defer to the Executive on questions of status-based immunity (e.g. head-of-state immunity), but like her, the court distinguished questions of conduct-based immunity, on which the Executive’s determinations were entitled only to substantial weight. On the merits, the court held that foreign officials are not entitled to conduct-based immunity for violations of jus cogens norms like torture and extrajudicial killing, which can never be considered “official acts.” Professor Keitner is one of the leading authorities on the law of official immunity. Her article “The Forgotten History of Foreign Official Immunity” recently appeared in the NYU Law Review.

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