Congress passed a separate law in 1992, the Torture Victims Protection Act, that says an individual who acts on behalf of a foreign nation can be held liable in a civil lawsuit for torturing or killing people. That law is unaffected by Wednesday's ruling.
Despite the unanimous judgment, the case produced four separate opinions. Roberts wrote for himself and fellow conservatives Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Kennedy wrote a brief opinion suggesting that the ruling leaves "open a number of significant questions regarding the reach and interpretation of the law." Alito, joined by Thomas, said he would have preferred an even broader opinion than Roberts.
Breyer's three liberal colleagues, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined his opinion.
The justices first heard the case in February 2012 to consider whether businesses could be sued under the law. But the court asked for additional arguments about whether the law could be applied to any conduct that takes place abroad. A second argument took place in October.
The case is Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, 10-1491.
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