Supreme Court rules US terror victims can collect $2B from Iran

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The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that American victims of terrorism could collect nearly $2 billion from the Central Bank of Iran.

The 6-2 ruling is a victory for more than 1,000 victims of terrorism sponsored by Iran, who have joined together to try to take control of the frozen assets parked in a Citibank account.

{mosads}In a 24-page opinion on behalf of the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rejected the bank’s argument that the payment would violate separation of powers protections because Congress had weighed in on how the victims should be repaid. 

The law “does not transgress constraints placed on Congress and the president by the Constitution,” she claimed. 

In 2008, victims of multiple Iran-sponsored terror attacks went to court to get hold of $1.75 billion in Iranian assets held in a New York bank account. Among the litigants were relatives of people killed in the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1996 attacks on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

In 2012, lawmakers came to the litigants’ aid by passing legislation specifying which assets could be handed over to victims of Iran-backed terror.

That law is “unusual,” Ginsburg wrote in her opinion, but nevertheless did not unduly interfere with the discretion of the courts. Not only is it not a “one-case-only” law, she claimed, but also the executive and legislative branches traditionally have been given authority to make determinations in cases over claims against foreign governments.

As such, there has been “no violation of separation-of-powers principles, and no threat to the independence of the judiciary,” Ginsburg wrote.

The Obama administration and lawmakers from the House and Senate had all filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the victims last December.

In a statement on Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the high court’s ruling “the right decision.”

“Families of Iranian terror victims have had to wait far too long to recoup these payments,” he said. “While we can only provide so much comfort to those who grieve, I hope this ruling will help bring justice.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor opposed the decision.

In a dissenting opinion, Roberts likened the situation to a dispute about property lines between neighbors, midway through which the city hall passes a new law weighing in on one side.

“Who would you say decided your case: the legislature, which targeted your specific case and eliminated your specific defenses so as to ensure your neighbor’s victory, or the court, which presided over the fait accompli?” he wrote.

The 2012 law, he claimed, was akin to Congress passing legislation that claimed, simply, “respondents win.”

“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,” he wrote. 

—Updated at 2:25 p.m.

Tags Paul Ryan Supreme Court of the United States

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