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Supreme Court Sides with Iran Terror Victims 6-2 in Frozen Assets Ruling

Deborah Peterson places flowers at the grave of her brother, Marine Cpl. James Chandonnet Knipple, Oct. 19, 2008, at Arlington National Cemetery. He was one of 241 Americans, mostly Marines, killed in the Oct. 23, 1983, terrorist attacks on a Marine Corps barracks in Beirut. (Defense Department photo)

The Supreme Court ruled 6-2 today that Iran’s central bank must pay a judgment to American victims of Iran-sponsored terror from $1.9 billion in frozen assets.

In Bank Markazi v. Peterson, the bank challenged a measure passed by Congress in 2012 directing that the frozen assets go toward fulfilling a $2.65 billion judgment to the families of victims killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing and other attacks bearing Iran’s fingerprints.

The assets, held in a Citibank account, were ordered to be distributed to the families in a 2014 appeals court ruling challenged by Bank Markazi.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, with Roberts writing that “Congress has decided this case by enacting a bespoke statute tailored to this case that resolves the parties’ specific legal disputes to guarantee respondents victory.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who authored the amendment to the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 requiring that the assets involved in a court proceeding shall “satisfy any judgment…of any compensatory damages awarded against Iran for damages for personal injury or death caused by an act of terrorism,” hailed the ruling.

“The Supreme Court affirmed today that legislative provisions I authored in 2012 were within the constitutional authorities of the United States Congress,” Menendez said in a statement. “And while there is no amount of money, no financial rewards, and no court rulings that can ever truly comfort the families of the victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, today’s decision is a long awaited victory for justice and in recognizing that the survivors are entitled to this compensation.”

“By confirming Congress’ prerogative to enact legislation that provides for appropriate and fair compensation to victims of Iranian terrorism, the Supreme Court has also delivered a clear warning to Iran:  So long as Iran continues its support for terrorism, its regime will be held liable for its actions,” Menendez continued.

“This should give the regime pause – its potential windfalls from sanctions relief under the Iran nuclear deal may now be steered to a much greater cause, compensation to American victims of Iran’s predatory foreign policies, something I’ve advocated all along.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said in December that “the U.S. judicial apparatus, with the support of the country’s administration and Congress, has been issuing and enacting rulings against the Islamic Republic of Iran for years, violating basic principles of international law with recourse to unsubstantiated and baseless allegations.”