WASHINGTON – Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018, a bill authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa to improve access to justice in U.S. courts for Americans who are victimized by acts of terrorism while abroad. The legislation addresses flawed federal court interpretations by reinforcing Congress’ original intent when it passed the Antiterrorism Act of 1992, which was also introduced by Grassley.
“Over twenty-five years ago, I led the Senate’s effort to pass the Antiterrorism Act to improve justice for Americans victimized by acts of terrorism abroad. Congress’ intent was clear: U.S. victims of international terrorism should be able to seek justice in U.S. courts against those responsible, no matter where the attacks occurred. But recent flawed court decisions have undermined the law’s purpose. Our bill is a carefully balanced approach to better ensure victims’ access to compensation and to hold supporters of terrorism accountable. I look forward to President Trump signing it into law,” Grassley said.
The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Marco Rubio of Florida, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Ted Cruz of Texas, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Christopher Coons of Delaware, John Cornyn of Texas, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Kennedy of Louisiana and John Boozman of Arkansas. It was introduced in May by Grassley, and was approved by the Senate in August.
With approval from both houses of Congress, the legislation now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
A brief description of the bill’s provisions follows.
Ending “Acts of War” Exemption Abuse
The Antiterrorism Act of 1992 exempted lawful “acts of war” from the scope of its civil liability provisions. However, some defendants accused of aiding and abetting acts of international terrorism have successfully claimed in court that the law’s “act of war” defense shields them from civil liability, even when the act of terrorism was perpetrated by a designated terrorist group. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 clarifies that the “act of war” defense does not apply to acts carried out by entities designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. government or any person who has been determined by the court to not be a military force. This simple amendment will help ensure that American victims of terrorism—including soldiers and other personnel serving abroad—can have their rightful day in court.
Expanding Access to Remedies for Victims of Narco-Terrorism
Under current law, American victims of terrorism may use the assets of a perpetrating terrorist entity that are frozen by the U.S. government to satisfy court-awarded judgments. Assets frozen under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (“Kingpin Act”), however, currently remain unavailable to victims of terrorism. This leaves victims of narco-terrorism or other drug-related terrorist activity without a meaningful method of satisfying their Antiterrorism Act judgments. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act clarifies that assets blocked under the Kingpin Act are available to victims.
Clarifying U.S. Court Jurisdiction in Foreign Terrorism Cases
Recent flawed court decisions have called into question the Antiterrorism Act’s continued ability to hold terrorists or their supporters accountable in U.S. courts. For example, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to deny certiorari in Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization—a case in which Chairman Grassley led a bipartisan amicus brief—leaves in place a flawed circuit court decision gutting the extraterritorial scope of the 1992 law. Carrying out or assisting an act of international terrorism that injures or kills Americans abroad should provide sufficient justification to subject defendants to U.S. legal sanctions. Moreover, no one benefiting from a U.S. program, such as foreign assistance, or maintaining a presence in the United States should be able to simultaneously dodge responsibility in U.S. courts for involvement in terrorist attacks that harm Americans. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act clarifies that certain defendants who take advantage of benefits under certain U.S. laws shall be deemed to have consented to jurisdiction in U.S. courts for any Antiterrorism Act lawsuit.
Text of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 is available HERE.