Supreme Court Sides With Victims Of Iran-Sponsored Terror Attacks

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of terror victims today, deciding in a 6-2 split that some victims of terrorism are owed around $2 billion in damages from Iran. The Supreme Court’s decision today reaffirms that Congress had not overstepped its bounds when it passed a law aimed at allowing victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism to collect damages from the Iran central bank.

“The law provides a new standard clarifying that if Iran owns certain assets, the victims of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks will be permitted to execute against those assets,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg today, delivering her majority opinion.

Today’s Supreme Court decision will allow victims — and the families of victims — of Iran-sponsored terrorism to claim some of Iran’s frozen overseas wealth, but the decision isn’t without its critics. Chief Justice John Roberts found himself on the same side of the issue as Obama-appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting from the majority opinion today, reports CNN.

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Chief Justice Roberts took issue with the law itself, which was directed at a pending court case, which Roberts says is an overstep of congressional authority – essentially writing a law that resolves a civil court case.

“No less than if it had passed a law saying ‘respondents win,’ Congress has decided this case by enacting a bespoke statute tailored to this case that resolves the parties’ specific legal disputes to guarantee respondents’ victory,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent today.

Roberts claimed the law violated a “bedrock” principle of the United States government, vesting judicial power with the judicial branch, not the legislative branch. Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Roberts in his dissent, expressing her own dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court decision today. But writing for the Supreme Court majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg addressed the concerns of her fellow justices in her majority opinion, reports USA Today.

“Exercise by Congress and the president of control over claims against foreign governments, as well as foreign government-owned property in the United States is hardly a novelty,” said Ginsburg.

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Ginsburg shot down Roberts and Sotomayor’s concerns, citing earlier instances when the Supreme Court upheld laws passed by Congress which dealt exclusively with a single subject – with a single bridge, or a single monument, and so on. The principle, Ginsburg claims, is sound and “hardly a novelty.”

Today’s Supreme Court decision doesn’t concern recent terror victims, but rather victims – and the families of victims – of a few attacks in 1983, 1996, and 2001. The 1996 attack – sponsored in part by Iran – targeted an apartment building in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 American service members. In 2001, Iran sponsored the suicide bombing of a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem which killed a New Jersey woman and 14 others.

The deadly 1983 Beirut bombing which killed 241 American service members stationed in Beirut, Lebanon, was the central feature of the case, however. The attack, perpetrated by Hezbollah and funded in part by Iran, targeted a Marine Corps barracks which was destroyed in an early pre-dawn truck bombing. Today’s Supreme Court decision marks the end of a long battle in the courts, on behalf of the families of victims seeking recompense for the deaths of their loved ones.

Today’s Supreme Court decision was a major victory for survivors of those attacks, and for the families of those who died, who have been fighting for restitution for over a decade. The attorney representing the families in this case released a statement in support of the decision today, stating that the Supreme Court decision is a sign of a government which works together for the people.

“This is the power of the president, and Congress, working together. Congress passed the statute, the president signed the statute, the president blocked the [Iranian] assets,” said Theodore Olson, attorney for the largest group of victims in the case.

[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]