The court was hearing arguments in the case by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic. If the court were to accept Nestle and Cargill’s arguments, that could further limit the ability of victims of human rights abuses abroad to use U.S. courts to sue. But both liberal and conservative justices asked questions that were skeptical of arguments made by the companies’ attorney.
“Many of your arguments lead to results that are pretty hard to take,” conservative Justice Samuel Alito told attorney Neal Katyal, who was arguing on behalf of Nestle and Cargill. The court’s three liberal justices were particularly critical of Katyal’s position, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor at one point saying it “boggles my mind.”
The case before the justices has been going on for more than 15 years. It involves six adult citizens of Mali, referred to only as John Does, who say that as children they were taken from their country and forced to work on cocoa farms in neighboring Ivory Coast. They say they worked 12 to 14 hours a day, were given little food and were beaten if their work was seen as slow.