Abdi Wali Dire, et al. (defendants), Somali nationals, were captured attempting to take over the USS Nicholas, an American Navy ship. The defendants were captured before boarding the ship and thus before they had the opportunity commit robbery. The defendants were charged with piracy in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In 1819, the United States Congress first prohibited piracy “as defined by the law of nations.” At the time, this definition was interpreted to include a requirement of robbery. As it existed at the time of the defendants’ conduct, piracy was still referenced in 18 U.S.C. § 1651 as “defined by the law of nations.” The defendants argued that the definition of piracy included a requirement of robbery, because that is how the term was defined when the United States Congress first passed the law regarding piracy. The defendants’ position was based on the notion that Congress in 1819 viewed the law of nations as static and, as a result, intended the definition of piracy to remain static as well. The defendants were convicted by the district court. They appealed.