Why President Obama Should Veto the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act

This morning, the House of Representatives passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bill purportedly designed to make it a lot easier for 9/11 victims and their families to recover against the government of Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in helping to finance some aspects of al Qaeda’s operations in the lead-up to the September 11 attacks. If it entered into law, JASTA would, according to senior officials of both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, likely provoke Saudi Arabia to remove billions of dollars of assets from U.S. soil, and have more widely deleterious foreign policy consequences (including the possibility that other countries will follow suit and weaken the United States’ sovereign immunity in their courts).

Reasonable minds can disagree about whether providing the 9/11 victims and their families with a meaningful civil remedy against Saudi Arabia, if the allegations are true, is worth that cost. But as I explained in detail in a post back in May, the version of JASTA that passed the Senate (and, it now seems, the House) is the worst of both worlds: Not only does the current bill raise all of the same diplomatic and foreign policy concerns, but the underlying purpose of the bill has been all-but eviscerated, thanks to complex and subtle changes the Senate made to the bill just before passing it (that I documented in detail in May), the net effect of which is to make it all-but impossible for the 9/11 victims and their families to actually recover any damages, even if they can prove Saudi Arabia’s involvement.

Simply put, even though he’s vetoed the fewest bills of any two-term President since James Madison, President Obama should veto JASTA–not because he thinks the diplomatic and foreign policy costs are too high (although he very well might), but because the purported benefits are completely illusory. 

About the Author(s)

Steve Vladeck

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security and Professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law. Follow him on Twitter (@steve_vladeck).