Barack Obama’s 2,808 day streak has come to an end with a Congressional override of his veto on a 9/11 Victims Bill. Up until September 23rd, Obama had successfully vetoed 11 bills, 5 of which had faced override attempts in the house and senate. However, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) Obama had vetoed on September 23rd was overwhelmingly overridden by the Senate, 97-1 (66 votes needed) and by the House, 348-77 (284 votes needed) on September 28th. As a result of the first veto override of Obama’s presidency, there has been a considerable amount of controversy over the contents of JASTA.
Section 3 of JATSA states, “This bill amends the federal judicial code to narrow the scope of foreign sovereign immunity (i.e., a foreign state’s immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts)”. JATSA “authorizes federal court jurisdiction over a claim against a foreign state”, which means it allows US citizens or entities to sue and bring up cases against foreign countries. JATSA, as its name suggests, was created to support victims of terrorism, specifically those who were victims of 9/11, who still feel that justice has not been served. Under the bill, victims of 9/11 can sue the government of Saudi Arabia under charges, such as mass murder and conspiracy.
Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary, told reporters, “I would venture to say that this [the Congressional override] is the single most embarrassing thing that the United States Senate has done, possibly, since 1983.” The Obama administration believes that the passing of JASTA sets a poor and dangerous precedent. According to Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor and former US assistant attorney general, JATSA “will create a broad precedent that can be used against the United States and its allies.” For instance, JATSA could lead to other countries establishing similar policies in which they can retaliate against the United States and its allies. In addition, such lawsuits pursued by other countries require information that could lead to the disclosure of “sensitive information and subject Americans to legal jeopardy of various kinds,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee.
Although JATSA is clearly well-intentioned, it fails at the very mission it intends to complete. In order for 9/11 victims to get anywhere in their lawsuits, they would have to establish a direct link between the Saudi government and the 9/11 attacks, which several serious investigations failed to do in the past. Ultimately, JATSA unrealistically assumes any chance of justice for victims of terrorism and instead poses extremely harmful outcomes such as the destabilization of the global political order. However, Mr. Goldsmith provides a possible alternative which is to amend JATSA and “limit its abrogation of immunity to Saudi Arabia alone.” Such a suggested solution would minimize possible collateral damage described previously and provide some justice for 9/11 victims by blatantly pointing at Saudi Arabia as a perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks.