The U.S. Supreme Court will not reinstate a $650 million award secured by American terror victims against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
The justices turned down an appeal Monday from 11 families who won the judgement in a Manhattan federal trial court, which the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently overturned. A bipartisan group of lawmakers say the decision effectively eviscerates a federal law that allows victims of terrorism to sue the perpetrators in American courts.
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992 (ATA) gives federal courts power to hear civil cases against terror syndicates. A coalition of American terror victims and their families sued the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2004 under the 1992 law. The plaintiffs were killed or injured in a series of attacks in and around Jerusalem during the al Aqsa Intifada. The PA and the PLO either carried out the attacks or furnished material support for the perpetrators.
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A jury found for the plaintiffs and awarded them $218 million in damages, which was raised to $655 million under a provision of the ATA that triples such judgements.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, finding federal courts cannot hear cases against the PA and the PLO, since their connection to the United States is tenuous and their agents did not set out to kill Americans. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reached the same conclusion in related litigation.
Lawmakers say the ruling substantially neuters the ATA. The U.S. House of Representatives filed an amicus (or “friend-of-the-court”) brief urging the justices to take the case, warning the 2nd Circuit’s decision dramatically narrows the range of actions that may be brought under the 1992 law.
“The decision below effectively nullifies the ATA, contravening the considered judgment of the political branches and hobbling an important tool in our nation’s war on terror,” their brief reads.
“The court of appeals’ decision renders the ATA lifeless with respect to the vast majority of circumstances it was enacted to address,” it adds.
The Trump administration filed its own brief advising the Court to let the 2nd Circuit’s decision stand.
“The United States sympathizes deeply with the American families who, in 2004, sued the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization for acts of terrorism committed against their loved ones between 2002 and 2004,” said Kerri Kupec, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice. “The court of appeals decided, however, that the suit was not consistent with due process under the Constitution, and its decision does not meet the usual standards for Supreme Court review. We will continue to support wherever possible all lawful actions to fight terrorism and provide redress to the victims of terrorist attacks and their families.”
The Supreme Court found in February that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which protects the property of foreign governments, does not have an exemption for state-sponsors of terror. The decision makes it more difficult for terror victims to recover damages from governments that support radical groups.
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