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Oct 30, 2017 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in leading 24 senators to urge the administration to provide its views to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Sokolow v. PLO case involving American victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks occurring in Israel in the early 2000s. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to hear the case.

Led also by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Chris Coons (D-DE), the bipartisan Senate letter comes after Rubio joined Grassley and other senators in filing an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari in Sokolow v. PLO in April. The Senate amicus brief urges the Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court decision undermining the ability of U.S. victims of international terrorism to seek justice. The appeals court’s decision effectively ified the Antiterrorism Act of 1992, a law passed by Congress specifically intended to protect Americans abroad and to provide victims with a tool to bring terrorists to justice in U.S. courts.

In 2004, American victims sued the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) under the Antiterrorism Act to recover damages. In 2015, after more than a decade of litigation, a unanimous jury awarded $655 million to the victims, finding that officers of the PA perpetrated several of the attacks and that the PLO and PA provided support to terrorist organizations involved in the attacks. On appeal, however, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s verdict, reasoning that the PLO and PA are protected from U.S. court jurisdiction in the suit because the attacks “were not sufficiently connected to the United States” and were not “specifically targeted against United States citizens.” 

On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court requested the views of the United States before it determines whether to grant certiorari in the case. It has been over three months since the Court’s request, and it still remains unclear whether or when the administration will provide its views.

Other signatories include Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Bill Nelson (D-FL), John Barrasso (R-WY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), John Boozman (R-AR), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), James Risch (R-ID), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), James Inhofe (R-OK), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dean Heller (R-NV), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

The full text of the senators’ letter is below:

Dear Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Tillerson:

On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court called for the views of the Solicitor General in Sokolow v. PLO, No. 16-1071, a case concerning the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992 (“ATA”) that is currently on petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  We write to strongly urge the Administration to avoid any unnecessary delay and respond as soon as possible to the Court’s request for views in this important matter.

Passed largely in response to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s 1985 murder of U.S. citizen Leon Klinghoffer aboard an Italian cruise ship, the ATA provides that perpetrators or supporters of international terrorism may be brought to justice in U.S. courts for injuring U.S. citizens regardless of where the injuries occurred.  To accomplish this, the ATA provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction over terrorist acts abroad against Americans.  As you know, both the State Department and Justice Department supported the enactment of the ATA.   

In Sokolow, the ATA worked just as Congress intended:  American victims secured a unanimous verdict against the PLO and Palestinian Authority (“PA”), whom the jury found liable for perpetrating and materially supporting acts of international terrorism abroad against U.S. citizens.  The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, however, vacated the jury’s decision, holding that the PLO and PA were protected from U.S. courts’ exercise of jurisdiction 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.  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.  

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.  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. 

Accordingly, we urge 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.