Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Congress and Iranian Terror Bombing Victims

Supreme Court Building, Washington DC. Image-Public Domain
Supreme Court Building, Washington DC. Image-Public Domain

In a Wednesday Supreme Court ruling, the court ruled that Congress had acted correctly and constitutionally when they decided to pass a law proposing to turn over almost $2 billion in Iranian funds to victims of Iranian terrorist attacks.

The case did not argue whether or not the funds should be paid, but rather that Congress had infringed on Judicial authority by awarding damages to the victims.

The majority’s opinion said that historically, the Executive and Legislative branch have generally been given wide latitude in areas of foreign policy, and that Congress had not infringed on the judicial branch by passing the law targeting the Iranian funds frozen in a Citibank account. Citibank had argued that payment of the funds would violate the separation of powers.

In a 24-page opinion on behalf of the 6-2 majority, Justice Ruth Ginsberg pointed out that the law “does not transgress constraints placed on Congress and the president by the Constitution.”[xyz-ihs snippet=”adsense-body-ad”]

Ginsberg continued, saying, “By altering the law governing the attachment of particular property belonging to Iran, Congress acted comfortably within the political branches’ authority over foreign sovereign immunity and foreign-state assets.”

Two justices, Sonia Sotomayor and and John Roberts opposed the decision. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Roberts wrote:

“Section 8772 decides this case no less certainly than if Congress had directed entry of judgment for respondents. As a result, the potential of the decision today ‘to effect important change in the equilibrium of power’ is ‘immediately evident.’ Morrison v. Olson, 487 U. S. 654, 699 (1988) (Scalia, J., dissenting). Hereafter, with this Court’s seal of approval, Congress can unabashedly pick the winners and losers in particular pending cases. Today’s decision will indeed become a ‘blueprint for extensive expansion of the legislative power’ at the Judiciary’s expense, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority v. Citizens for Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc., 501 U. S. 252, 277 (1991), feeding Congress’s tendency to “extend[ ] the sphere of its activity and draw[ ] all power into its impetuous vortex,” The Federalist No. 48, at 309 (J. Madison).”

But, it was noted during the oral arguments before the justices that many times Congress passes laws with effects that are individualized and many times provide funding for items to specific people or for such items as bridges or other specific infrastructure items.

President Obama and Congress have worked for years to get Iran to pay up for attacks that included the 1983 Beirut Barracks bombing that took the lives of 241 service members, the 1996 bombing of Saudi Arabia’s Khobar Towers that took the lives of 19 service members, and the 2001 suicide bombing of Jerusalem’s Sbarro Pizzaria.

The lead plaintiff in the case was the sister of Beirut bombing victim Lance Cpl. James Knipple, Debra Peterson. She filed the wrongful death lawsuit in 2001.[xyz-ihs snippet=”Adversal-468×60″]