Lawmakers on Both Sides of the Aisle Join Together to Pass JASTA, Face Veto

The House of Representatives last week voted to pass legislation allowing victims of terrorism greater ability to sue foreign government officials.

Called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), it has ramifications for Washington’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The Congressional Research Service reports:

“This bill amends the federal judicial code to narrow the scope of foreign sovereign immunity by authorizing US courts to hear cases involving claims against a foreign state for injuries, death, or damages that occur inside the United States as a result of a tort, including an act of terrorism, committed anywhere by a foreign state or official.”

The House passed JASTA by voice vote. Similarly, the Senate passed its version of JASTA in May unanimously.

The effort to achieve restitution against Saudi Arabia has picked up energy since the summer. Congress released 28 redacted pages in July from a 2002 CIA report. Still partially classified, the report implicated some Saudi officials for contacting and possibly funding individuals who executed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Saudis have vigorously lobbied against the legislation. Some of the threats have included selling off American assets to prevent passage.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, a year ago introduced JASTA along with Republican John Cornyn of Texas. They said the JASTA intended to provide a sense of justice for the victims’ families. In a joint statement, they announced:

“The bottom line is that victims of terror on American soil ought to have an ability to hold accountable the foreign powers and other entities that fund the hate-filled organizations that inflict injury and death on our fellow citizens.”

President Barack Obama has consistently expressed reticence over the bill, insisting he will veto it. Schumer retorts Democrats would join Republicans to override it.

“I think we easily get the two-thirds override if the president should veto,” he said.

A White House official quoted in Politico explained the administration’s reasons for opposing the measure. He said:

“The proposed remedy, however, would enact broad changes in long-standing international law regarding sovereign immunity that, if applied globally, could have serious implications for U.S. interests. We believe there needs to be more careful consideration of the potential unintended consequences.”

Although JASTA passed both houses nearly unanimously, some people argue the legislation could be self-defeating. Schumer inserted an amendment in the Senate version months ago, “Stay of Actions Pending State Negotiations.” Thus, the Justice Department is allowed to continually petition for 180-day stays, perhaps extending lawsuits in perpetuity.

If Obama vetoes the bill, the override vote might occur after the November elections, during a so-called lame duck session.

Photo Source:Shannon Stapleton / Reuters