Act of State Doctrine

The Act of State Doctrine is a legal principle derived from common law that provides immunity to acts of foreign states within their own territories. This doctrine serves as a limitation on the jurisdiction of domestic courts to review the official actions of foreign governments. By invoking the Act of State Doctrine, courts abstain from ruling on matters deemed to be within the exclusive authority and sovereignty of foreign nations.


The Act of State Doctrine is based on the principle of comity, which seeks to promote mutual respect and deference among sovereign nations. It recognizes that one country should not pass judgment on the public acts of another country within its own territory. The Act of State Doctrine is an important component of international law, as it reflects the fundamental principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other states.

Under the Act of State Doctrine, courts will generally refuse to adjudicate cases that involve acts of foreign sovereigns, regardless of their legality or morality. This doctrine applies to both legislative and executive acts of foreign governments. It is important to note that the Act of State Doctrine does not grant absolute immunity to foreign governments; rather, it restricts the power of domestic courts to question or invalidate foreign state actions.

The Act of State Doctrine is typically invoked in cases that touch upon matters such as nationalization of property, expropriation of assets, government contracts, or other official acts by foreign states. Its purpose is to prevent the courts of one country from interfering in the internal affairs of another, thereby promoting stability and preserving harmonious relations between nations.

However, this doctrine is not without exceptions. Courts may consider the Act of State Doctrine inapplicable when the act in question is contrary to fundamental principles of justice, breaches international law, or violates United States public policy. For example, if a foreign state engages in gross human rights violations or commits acts that are clearly illegal under international law, American courts may be willing to challenge such actions, notwithstanding the Act of State Doctrine.

The Act of State Doctrine has significant ramifications for businesses engaged in international trade and investment. It establishes a legal framework that encourages foreign states to act within their own territories, without fear of judicial interference from other nations. This provides a level of certainty for corporations conducting business on a global scale, as it reinforces the principle of legal sovereignty and limits the potential for legal disputes based on the actions of foreign governments.

In summary, the Act of State Doctrine is a foundational principle of international law that recognizes and respects the authority and sovereignty of foreign states within their own territories. It limits the jurisdiction of domestic courts to review acts of foreign governments, thereby promoting stability in international relations. While the Act of State Doctrine provides a general rule of deference to foreign state actions, there are exceptions where courts may intervene to address acts that breach fundamental principles of justice or violate international law.

This glossary is made for freelancers and owners of small businesses. If you are looking for exact definitions you can find them in accounting textbooks.

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