Graffiti depicting the Statue of Liberty painted on the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Photo credit:

Supreme Court: Americans Can Now Sue Iran Over Terrorist Attacks

Maybe we haven’t actually reached a new stage of our relationship with Iran after all.

At least that’s what the latest ruling from the Supreme Court might have you thinking.

On Wednesday, the highest court in the nation ruled in a favor, 6-2, of a recent bill passed by Congress allowing American victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks to sue Iran for compensation, for a sum up to $2 billion.  

In 2012, the bill first passed as a law.  The original bill was the result of efforts by Deborah Peterson, who first filed a case against Iran in American courts in 2001 with 241 other parties, following the death of her brother in the 1983 Beirut attacks. A federal district court ruled in their favor, but nothing happened until 2013, after Congress passed the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.  At that the Bank of Markazi, the central bank of Iran, was ordered to hand over the money.

It’s this passage of law affecting judicial proceedings before the case made it all the way through the courts that irked Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sotomayor–two justices who usually sit on polar opposite sides of the bench, and yet came together to write the dissenting opinion for this case.

“Hereafter, with this court’s seal of approval, Congress can unabashedly pick the winners and losers in particular pending cases,” warned the Chief Justice in his dissent.

Aside from setting a questionable precedent for the relationship of the courts and the legislative branch, the ruling in Bank Markazi v. Peterson is a pretty big deal because it potentially serves as an indication of sorts regarding other very similar legislation that is being considered in Congress at this very moment. A bill of a similar nature that would allow the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their families to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the attacks is currently facing massive opposition from senior members of Congress, and President Obama himself despite broad support from the rest of Congress, for both economic reasons and because it would open the door for the United States to potentially be sued for shady partnerships in the future as well. A 1976 law currently exempts nations from being sued by civilians, but with this latest ruling, it seems that the door–and the legal precedent–for this bill is also now wide open.

Of course, even though this ruling could potentially have serious repercussions for our already extremely tenuous relationship with Iran, there are some benefits. For one, the victims of this terror attack could potentially find some solace. On another note, it’s worth mentioning that this case could also open the door for other very controversial (and arguably very necessary) lawsuits surrounding compensation for horrific acts domestically.  If we can sue other countries for terrorism and violations of human rights, who’s to say our Black brothers and sisters can’t sue our own government for reparations for the massive act of terrorism that was slavery?

That’s likely still a long way off, and whether Iran actually pays up or not remains to be seen. But for now, it seems, the court has spoken, and it’s still unclear who’s the winner.

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