Former Obama administration acting solicitor general Neal Katyal is getting slammed for his defense of Nestlé and Cargill, in which he argued that American corporations should not be subject to lawsuits in American courts for allegedly aiding and abetting child slavery in a foreign country.
Katyal appeared before the Supreme Court on Tuesday for oral arguments in the case, which was brought by several individuals who claim they were child slaves on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations, working for the American companies’ supplier after being trafficked from Mali. They claim that the companies knew about the alleged slave labor but bought from the plantations anyway.
“Big Law attorneys with a progressive pro bono practice are still Big Law attorneys,” Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern tweeted, expressing a cynical view of the legal industry.
Others took a more pointedly critical stance on Katyal’s choice.
“There are some cases a self-respecting lawyer…despite a righteous belief that everyone deserves qualified and competent representation…simply should not take,” one Twitter user said in reaction to the case. “This is one of those.”
Others were far more blunt.
Fox News reached out to Katyal, Nestlé, and Cargill for comment, but none immediately responded.
The justices on the Supreme Court, meanwhile, took aim at Katyal’s legal arguments. Justice Elena Kagan asked Katyal if a former child slave would be able to sue a single slaveholder, to which he replied yes. She then asked if the slave could sue 10 slaveholders, and he gave the same answer.
“What sense does this make?” Kagan asked, when questioning why those same 10 slaveholders would be protected if they formed a corporation.
Justice Samuel Alito offered an extreme hypothetical challenging Katyal’s arguments for why the Alien Tort Statute does not allow for the former slaves to sue the American companies.
“Mr. Katyal, many of your arguments lead to results that are pretty hard to take,” Alito said. “So suppose U.S. corporation makes big show of supporting every cause de jour but then surreptitiously hires agents in Africa to kidnap children and keep them in bondage on a plantation so that the corporation can buy cocoa or coffee or some other agricultural product at bargain prices. You would say that the victims who couldn’t possibly get any recovery in the courts of the country where they had been held should be thrown out of court in the United States where this corporation is headquartered and does business?”
Katyal noted that this hypothetical is far more extreme than the allegations in the current cases, but said that it still would not be a violation of the Alien Tort Statute “because there is no domestic injury.”