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Thursday, September 29, 2016
CONGRESS DELIVERS FIRST VETO OVERRIDE OF OBAMA'S TWO TERMS
September 28, 2016 (Reported on 9/29/16)
Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following statement on the floor of the House of Representatives supporting the veto override of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.
Chairman Goodlatte: Earlier today, the Senate voted 97 to 1 to override the President’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. I rise to urge my colleagues to follow the Senate’s action and vote to override this veto so that Americans may seek judicial redress against any foreign government that chooses to sponsor a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
The question that this veto override vote poses is whether we should allow those who harm our citizens to hide behind legal barriers that are required by neither the Constitution nor international law or whether we should permit U.S. victims to hold those who sponsor terrorism in our country fully accountable in our courts. I think that the answer to this question is clear and I hope that my colleagues will join me in overwhelmingly overriding the President’s veto of JASTA.
The changes JASTA makes to existing law are not dramatic, nor are they sweeping.
JASTA amends the Anti-Terrorism Act to make clear that any person who aids, abets, or conspires with a State Department designated foreign terrorist organization is subject to civil liability for injury to a U.S. person.
In addition, the legislation amends the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to add an exception to foreign sovereign immunity for acts of international terrorism sponsored by a foreign government that cause physical harm within the United States.
The President objects to this change to the law on the grounds that it upsets principles of foreign sovereign immunity and, that by so doing, our national interests will be threatened by reciprocal treatment from abroad. The President’s objections, however, have no basis under U.S. or international law.
The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act already has nine exceptions to sovereign immunity, including the territorial tort exception. This exception provides that a foreign country is not immune from the jurisdiction of our courts for injuries that it causes that occur entirely, within the United States.
Consistent with customary international law, JASTA, for terrorism cases, removes the current requirement that the entire tort occur within the United States and replaces it with a rule that only the physical injury or death must occur on U.S. soil. JASTA makes this change because, under current law, a foreign nation can provide financing and other substantial assistance for a terrorist attack in our country and escape liability so long as the support is provided overseas.
For example, under current law, if the intelligence agency of a foreign government handed a terrorist a bag of money in New York City to support an attack on U.S. soil, the country would be liable under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s tort exception. However, if we change the fact pattern slightly, so that rather than giving a terrorist money in New York City, the money is provided in Paris, the foreign state will not be subject to liability in U.S. courts. This is a troubling loophole in our antiterrorism laws.
When Congress enacted the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in 1976, it put in place a broad set of exceptions to sovereign immunity, including an exception for tort claims involving injuries occurring in the United States. However, the courts have not consistently interpreted those exceptions in such a manner that they cover the sponsoring of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. JASTA addresses this inconsistency with a concrete rule that is consistent with the nine, long-standing exceptions to foreign sovereign immunity already provided for under U.S. law.
JASTA ensures that those, including foreign governments, who sponsor terrorist attacks on U.S. soil are held fully accountable for their actions. We can no longer allow those who injure and kill Americans to hide behind legal loopholes, denying justice to the victims of terrorism.
I urge my colleagues to vote to override the President’s veto and reserve the balance of my time.