By Mike Martin
Congress recently hit the necessary threshold of a 2/3 vote to override President Barack Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), with ease. The Senate voted 97-1 for the override, and the House also overwhelmingly voted to override the veto, 348-77.
The veto override being put to a vote made it inevitable that this bill would be put into law, even though the Obama Administration fiercely opposed it. President Obama said that he understood the override, and chalked it up to being a “political vote.” He stated that he “wished Congress had done what is hard.” He continued to say, “If you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do.”
So what exactly are we getting out of this bill? JASTA allows families of victims from the September 11th attacks to sue the Saudi Arabian government for their involvement in the attacks. Naturally, this bill is regarded by many as an amazing opportunity for the families of victims to gain some of the justice and compensation they rightfully deserve. While a truly noble feat, this bill may have some negative repercussions.
One main concern, as laid out by the Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, is that it weakens the concept of foreign sovereign immunity, which in turn could put American troops at risk of facing legal action for their involvement in military strikes. With JASTA as legal precedent, foreign countries could deem something like a drone strike against a suspected al Qaeda target in Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia as terrorism, and under the context of this law, the United States or its citizens could face significant liability in those courts
Concerns like these have led to efforts from numerous Senators, including Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) to tweak the bill. As a part of these efforts, 28 Senators sent a letter after the vote to the bill’s sponsors, Senators John Cronyn (R-TX) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), asking for them to work together to “appropriately mitigate those unintended consequences.” This task will now be left to the post-election lame duck session.
Clearly, as there is with any legislation, there are both positives and negatives involved with JASTA. The bill itself invokes a passionate response, because it helps families seek further justice for one of the worst terrorist attacks in our nation’s history. But we should also be passionate about protecting our troops from lawsuits based on their actions while serving in the U.S. military.
Let’s maintain hope that the so-called “tweaking” that many Senators desire can be done in the lame duck session, and that both our military and the families of 9/11 victims can get what they rightfully deserve.
Michael Martin is a Juris Doctor candidate at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. He is also pursuing a specialization in cyber and homeland security through Maryland’s new cyber-security certificate program, and he is pursuing a career in the field of homeland security.