In an overwhelming majority, Congress has voted to overturn President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), ensuring the bill will become law.
The bipartisan bill will allow U.S. nationals, including 9/11 families, to take civil action against foreign countries and entities who aid and abet foreign organizations or persons that engage in terrorist activities against the United States.
Introduced in the Senate in September 2015, the bill only saw one amendment before receiving unanimous approval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives via Voice Votes. The bill garnered massive media buzz and even received backing from presidential candidates Donald J. Trump and Hillary R. Clinton.
However, last week the bill was vetoed by President Barack Obama who voiced concern that the bill could result in a kind of two-way street for legal action. In a letter received by Congress on Tuesday, Obama wrote “As a result [of the bill], our nation and its armed forces, State Department, intelligence officials and others may find themselves subject to lawsuits in foreign courts.”
Supporters of the bill stated that the language of the bill is narrowly tailored to only allow for legal action against terrorist acts that occur on U.S. soil and does not extend to injuries suffered as a result of an act of negligence or an act of war.
The New York Times reports that on Wednesday, the Senate held a scheduled vote to override the President’s veto – the motion passed 97 to 1. Hours later, the House also voted in favor of overriding the veto, 348 to 77. The Obama administration has stated they will attempt to tweak the legislation in the future.
Per the bill, civil litigants can file a lawsuit against any foreign person, entity, or nation who knowingly provided substantial assistance to or conspired with a person or entity who committed an act of international terrorism against the United States.
In order the entity to be held liable, the act of international terrorism must have been committed, planned, or authorized by an organization that had been designated as a foreign terrorist organization prior to the date on which the act was carried out.
The bill explicitly prohibits litigation against foreign entities for acts of negligence or acts of war. Additionally, the bill only covers acts of terror that happened on or after September 11, 2001.
Civil litigants will be able to seek damages for physical injury, property damage, and death. U.S. courts will have sole jurisdiction over the lawsuits.