The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), passed by Congress over the veto of President Obama, adds section 1605B to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) and allows U.S. citizens to bring civil actions against
Persons, entities, or countries that knowingly or recklessly contribute material support or resources, directly or indirectly, to persons or organizations that pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the security of nationals of the United States or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States, necessarily direct their conduct at the United States, and should reasonably anticipate being brought to court in the United States to answer for such activities.
The purpose of JASTA, as stated by some members of Congress, is to permit the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for damages in court for its alleged, but unproven, support of the 9/11 hijackers. It narrows the scope of foreign sovereign immunity, which had formerly been limited by exceptions listed in 28 USC §§ 1605-1607, including commercial activity and state-sponsored terrorism.
President Obama had initially vetoed the bill. In his veto message to Congress, he states several reasons, including the concern that JASTA
threatens to strip all foreign governments of immunity from judicial process in the United States based solely upon allegations by private litigants that a foreign government’s overseas conduct had some role or connection to a group or person that carried out a terrorist attack inside the United States.
Additionally, he stated
JASTA would upset longstanding international principles regarding sovereign immunity, putting in place rules that, if applied globally, could have serious implications for U.S. national interests. . . [and that JASTA] threatens to undermine these longstanding principles that protect the United States, our forces, and our personnel.
In order to override the veto, Congress was required to pass the bill by a 2/3 majority. The House vote in favor of overriding the veto was 348-77, and the Senate vote was 97-1. Since the override vote, some members of Congress have had second thoughts, and stated concern for the same reasons raised by President Obama in his veto message. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell blames President Obama for not working with Congress on the legislation, and both the House and Senate leaders are discussing amendments to the newly-passed law.
- Mark Mazzetti, Claims of Saudi Role in 9/11 Appear Headed for Manhattan Court, N.Y. Times, Sept. 29, 2016.
- James Taranto, Jasta la Vista, Baby, Wall St. J., Sept. 29, 2016.
- An Obama Veto Worth Backing, Wall St. J., Sept. 20, 2016.
- U.S. Could Pay a High Price for Suing the Saudis, Bloomberg View, Sept. 9, 2016.
- Sept. 11 Litigation Cases, Southern District of New York.
- National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report.
- 28 Pages of the 2002 Congressional Inquiry into the Sept. 11 Attacks (formerly classified, released July 2016).
Books available in Pace Law Library
- Hazel Fox, The Law of State Immunity (2013). KZ4012 .F69 2013
- James Cooper Hill, The Law of Sovereign Immunity and Terrorism (2006) KZ4012 .C66 2006
- Ramona Pedretti, Immunity of Heads of State and State Officials for International Crimes (2015). KZ7085 .P43 2015