It’s almost impossible to sue a foreign government in U.S. courts. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the court-created “act of state” doctrine, and other common-law immunities shield foreign officials and governments from most lawsuits. For instance, courts have dismissed claims against China, Cuba, Venezuela, and Russia over allegations of torture, detentions, and election interference. Yet foreign governments have unfettered access to U.S. courts as plaintiffs. And foreign dictatorships—including Russia, China, Turkey, and Venezuela—have leveraged this access to harass political dissidents, critics, and even newspapers in the United States. These doctrines create an asymmetry at the heart of this Article: foreign dictators and their proxies can access our courts as plaintiffs to harass their opponents, but their regimes are, in turn, immune from lawsuits here.
This seminar will expose that asymmetry and argue that U.S. courts and Congress should make it harder for foreign dictators to abuse our legal system. This seminar offers three novel contributions. First, this seminar provides the first systematic assessment of foreign dictatorships in U.S. courts. While much of the literature is siloed by area of substantive law—focusing on contexts like human rights or property expropriations—this seminar treats dictators as a transsubstantive category of litigants, worthy of special analysis. Second, this seminar exposes how foreign dictators are increasingly taking advantage of U.S. courts and comity doctrines, especially as plaintiffs. In a misguided effort to promote harmonious foreign relations, courts have provided foreign dictators an array of protections and privileges, which dicta- tors are eagerly exploiting. Finally, this seminar demonstrates that there is no historical, constitutional, or statutory obligation on U.S. courts to give foreign dictators these legal protections and unfettered access to our courts. Because of that, I offer four concrete proposals to both stymie dictators’ access to U.S. courts as plaintiffs—through a proposed foreign sovereign anti-SLAPP statute—and weaken the protections that dictators enjoy as defendants. Simply stated, U.S. courts should not be instruments of foreign authoritarian oppression.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Diego A. Zambrano’s primary research and teaching interests lie in the areas of civil procedure, transnational litigation, and judicial federalism. His work explores the civil litigation landscape: the institutions, norms, and incentives that influence litigant and judicial behavior. Professor Zambrano also has an interest in comparative constitutional law and legal developments related to Venezuela. He currently leads an innovative Stanford Policy Lab tracking “Global Judicial Reforms” and has served as an advisor to pro-democracy political parties in Venezuela. In 2021, Professor Zambrano received the Barbara Allen Babcock Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Professor Zambrano’s scholarship has appeared or is forthcoming at the Columbia Law Review, University of Chicago Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, Stanford Law Review, and Virginia Law Review, among other journals, and has been honored by the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) and the National Civil Justice Institute. Professor Zambrano will be a co-author of the leading casebook Civil Procedure: A Modern Approach (8th ed. 2024) (with Marcus, Pfander, and Redish). In addition, Professor Zambrano serves as the current chair of the Federal Courts Section of the AALS. He also writes about legal issues for broader public audiences, with his contributions appearing in the Wall Street Journal, BBC News, and Lawfare.
After graduating with honors from Harvard Law School in 2013, Professor Zambrano spent three years as an associate at Cleary Gottlieb in New York, focusing on transnational litigation and arbitration. Before joining Stanford Law School in 2018, Professor Zambrano was a Bigelow Teaching Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School.
Virtual to Public. Only those with an active Stanford ID with access to E008 in Encina Hall may attend in person.