Bipartisan Senators to Admin: Back Americans in Terror Lawsuit Against Palestinians

President Trump shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after making statements to the press May 23, 2017, in Bethlehem. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — Two dozen GOP and Democratic senators are pressing the Trump administration to heed a three-month-old request from the Supreme Court for the U.S. government to weigh in on a lawsuit involving American victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks.

In April, senators submitted an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari in Sokolow v. Palestinian Liberation Organization, a case in which the PLO was originally ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to American victims of six terrorist attacks in Israel between 2001 and 2004.

Plaintiff Mark Sokolow was in the World Trade Center, survived the 9/11 attacks, and four months later took his family on a trip to Israel. They were injured when a suicide bomber attacked Jaffa Street in Israel. They and other victims used the Anti-Terrorism Act, a law passed largely in response to the PLO’s 1985 murder of U.S. citizen Leon Klinghoffer aboard an Italian cruise ship, to sue the Palestinian leaders.

The Obama administration intervened in the case on the side of the Palestinians, filing a Statement of Interest expressing “concerns about the harms that could arise if the ability of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to operate as a governmental authority is severely compromised.” In 2015, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Obama officials to “refrain from taking any action in the case,” brought under a law enacted “so that terrorists and state sponsors of terrorism are held accountable for their terrible crimes.”

In August 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit threw out the lawsuit, ruling that the PLO and PA were protected from action in U.S. courts because the terror attacks “were not sufficiently connected to the United States.”

“Ironically, the Second Circuit’s decision throwing out the verdict for lack of jurisdiction is precisely the result that the ATA was enacted to avoid,” senators wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week, referencing the Anti-Terrorism Act that allows U.S. victims of international terrorism to seek justice in American courts. “If left to stand, the decision casts severe doubt on the continued ability of other American victims of international terrorist attacks to obtain some semblance of justice in our nation’s courts against the perpetrators, and undermines a key counterterrorism tool that was deliberately crafted by Congress with the support and assistance of your Departments.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) along with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) led the letter.

“The Sokolow plaintiffs have since filed a petition for certiorari, and amicus briefs were promptly filed in support thereof by the House of Representatives and a bipartisan group of twenty-three United States senators,” they wrote. “It has now been over three months, however, since the Court requested the views of the United States, with little indication at this time that such views will soon be provided to the Court.”

“The case is now in its fourteenth year. One of the plaintiffs—the father of a boy killed in a bombing at the Frank Sinatra International Student Center in Jerusalem—has already died without seeing the case finalized. Justice for American victims of international terrorism should not be delayed any longer.”

The senators urged the administration “to demonstrate its resolve to combat international terrorism and put American victims first by avoiding any unnecessary delay and responding as soon as possible to the Supreme Court’s request for the views of the United States in this matter.”

Sens. Schumer, John Cornyn (R-Texas), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), James Risch (R-Idaho), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) signed the letter.