Home Online Discussion of Foreign State Immunity in U.S. Courts

    Online Discussion of Foreign State Immunity in U.S. Courts

    “Are the Courts Doing What Congress Intended in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act?”

    An Online Discussion of Foreign State Immunity in U.S. Courts

     Thursday, September 17, 2020
    from 5:30 until 7:00 pm ET

    The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 governs all civil actions brought against foreign states, government agencies and state-owned enterprises in courts in the United States.  The FSIA has generated extensive litigation including numerous Supreme Court decisions.  On July 2, the Court agreed to hear two more cases – involving expropriation claims brought by Holocaust victims against Hungary and Germany, respectively.  At the same time, they rejected a petition to resolve a circuit split regarding the common law immunities of foreign government officials.

    The Panel will explore (1) important questions presented by recent cases, including litigation of genocide claims in U.S. courts, judicial discretion to dismiss claims on grounds of international comity and the application of the FSIA to criminal matters; (2) broader problems of judicial management arising from the complex structure of the Act, its gaps and ambiguities – some intended, some not; and (3) the common law immunity of foreign government officials.

    Moderator:  Mary Catherine Malin, Assistant Legal Adviser, Diplomatic Law and Litigation, Department of State.


    • Mark B. Feldman, Adjunct Professor Georgetown Law, Deputy/Acting Legal Adviser, Department of State (1974-81), coordinated drafting FSIA.
    • The Honorable Royce Lamberth, senior Judge, USDC District of Columbia, former Chief Judge.
    • John Bellinger III, partner Arnold & Porter, former Legal Adviser, Department of State, former Legal Adviser National Security Council.

    Mary Catherine Malin 

    For the past ten years, Mary Catherine Malin has served as the Assistant Legal Adviser for Diplomatic Law and Litigation at the U.S. Department of State, handling issues involving diplomatic and consular immunity, foreign sovereign immunity, foreign official immunity, privileges and immunities of international organizations and the recognition of states and governments.  She also co-teaches Foreign Relations Law as an adjunct faculty member at the Georgetown University Law Center, with a focus on constitutional issues arising in the conduct of U.S. foreign relations.

    Mark B. Feldman

    Mark B. Feldman teaches foreign relations law at Georgetown.  As Deputy and Acting Legal Adviser (1974-81), Professor Feldman played a major role in drafting the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the Iran Claims Agreement.  He negotiated the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property as well as U.S. maritime boundaries with Canada, Cuba and Mexico.  Professor Feldman issued the first State Department suggestion of immunity for a foreign official in 1976 and initiated the 1967 Alaska Treaty line as the maritime boundary with Russia.

    The Honorable Royce C. Lamberth

    Royce C. Lamberth was appointed United States District Judge for the District of Columbia on November 16, 1987.  He served as Chief Judge from May 1, 2008 to July 15, 2013, and has since transitioned to Senior Status. Judge Lamberthserved as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, and became Chief of the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office after only four years. He remained in that role until his appointment by President Reagan to the bench in 1987.  In 1995, Judge Lamberth was appointed by Chief Justice Rehnquist to be Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a seven-year term that included the time leading up to and immediately following the attacks on September 11.

    John B. Bellinger III

    John B. Bellinger III is a partner at Arnold & Porter in Washington, DC, and co-head of the firm’s Global Law and Policy Practice. He is also Adjunct Senior Fellow in International and National Security Law at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Bellinger served as The Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from April 2005 to January 2009. Mr. Bellinger represented the United States before the International Court of Justice in Mexico v. United States (Medellin) and the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal and negotiated a number of treaties and international agreements, including the Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.

    Co-sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Society of International Law (ASIL)

    Find full bios of panelists here: Bios.