Congress officially overturned President Barack Obama‘s veto of a bill that will allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia. The Senate voted 97-1 to override the veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) earlier today, and this afternoon, the House voted in favor of the bill as well.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest decried the override as the “single most embarrassing thing the United States Senate has done possibly since 1983.” President Obama was against JASTA due to concerns that by limiting sovereign immunity that generally protects foreign governments from being sued, other countries may do the same and go after the U.S.
JASTA would create what is called “subject-matter jurisdiction” in United States federal courts for civil lawsuits against any sovereign nations 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…” Bottom line, victims of terrorism could potentially hold countries responsible. Under current law, most civil lawsuits naming foreign nations as defendants are thrown out of federal court before a single piece of evidence is introduced or a single witness called. Nations themselves traditionally have “sovereign immunity,” which is an absolute shield against most claims against them.
The many critics of JASTA point to the geopolitical disaster likely to result from an American decision to strip foreign countries of their sovereignty. While such criticism may be hyperbolic, it’s entirely accurate to note that several American allies have already gone on record voicing their disapproval of JASTA.
This is the first time that Congress has overridden an Obama veto during his presidency. For more legal analysis on this bill, see this in-depth LawNewz.com article.
Elura Nanos contributed to this report.
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