Defying a seemingly united Congress and risking a public backlash, President Obama will veto legislation allowing relatives of the 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts, the White House confirmed on Monday. Obama’s rejection of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act will trigger what seems likely to be the first-ever successful congressional vote to override his veto.
“The president feels strongly about this, and I do anticipate that the president will veto the legislation when it’s presented to him,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at his daily briefing.
The legislation never explicitly mentions Saudi Arabia, which was home to most of the 9/11 hijackers, but that American ally is widely understood to be the main target. The bill would change federal law to allow lawsuits against foreign states or officials for injuries, death or damages stemming from an act of international terrorism. Current law recognizes “sovereign immunity,” which protects governments and government officials from civil cases.
The White House has argued that eroding the legal principle of sovereign immunity could lead other countries to change their laws to permit their courts to try cases against the U.S. government or its diplomats and military personnel.
With all of the House and a third of the Senate on the ballot in November, it’s not surprising that all of them support a bill packed full of so many emotions, but it is bad law. Just think of all of the millions of people in other countries who argue that Americans engage in terrorism every time one of our highly-sophisticated precision weapons misses and kills a bunch of innocent folks. Do we want those nations suing our military personnel or our nation? Sure, they can do it now, but we can rightly cling to international law. We lose that grip if we do it ourselves.