Judiciary Committee Advances Plan to Restore Access to Justice for U.S. Victims of Terrorism
Oct 17, 2019
Bill Includes Coons-Grassley amendment to hold PA accountable in U.S. courts based on martyr payments to families of terrorists
WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee today advanced bipartisan legislation to ensure American victims of international terrorism can seek justice in U.S. courts. The legislation builds upon the 1992 Anti-Terrorism Act authored by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and responds to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) shameful restriction on humanitarian aid in its effort to thwart accountability for supporting acts of terrorism. It also corrects a recent circuit court decision that effectively closed the courthouse doors to American victims. The Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act advanced to the full Senate by a vote of 15-7.
“The American principle that everyone deserves meaningful access to justice is as old as the Constitution itself. That’s why, in 1992, Congress unanimously passed the Anti-Terrorism Act to open the courthouse doors to American victims and their families. Unfortunately, recent flawed court decisions gutted the law that had worked for nearly 30 years. When Congress sought to close that loophole, the Palestinian Authority responded by thumbing its nose at our justice system and unnecessarily blocked humanitarian aid from its own people in the process. The Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act restores jurisdiction in U.S. courts and ensures that critical humanitarian aid can continue to flow,” Grassley said.
“This bill marks a rare compromise reached by American victims of terrorism and the State Department. I’m grateful for their tireless work and the efforts of colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move this bill forward.”
In 1992, Congress unanimously passed Grassley’s Anti-Terrorism Act, allowing Americans who fall victim to acts of terrorism while abroad to seek damages in U.S. courts. Since it was enacted, the law has resulted in significant judgments in favor of U.S. victims, providing some semblance of justice and deterring further support of international terrorism. However, a flawed ruling by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals undermined the law by constraining the ability of U.S. victims to establish jurisdiction over foreign entities accused of perpetrating or supporting acts of terrorism.
To restore the law, both chambers of Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act in 2018 without a single objection. That bill, also authored by Grassley, made clear that any foreign entity accepting taxpayer-funded foreign assistance is consenting to jurisdiction in U.S. courts for Antiterrorism Act lawsuits. In response, the PA, which had already been found liable by a New York jury for supporting acts of terrorism that killed Americans, rejected all American foreign aid to dodge accountability in U.S. courts. It also needlessly blocked any foreign aid for nongovernmental entities operating in the region in apparent retaliation to the bill.
To correct this injustice by the PA and to restore the congressional intent of the 1992 law, Grassley joined Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) to introduce the Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. The bill helps to restore foreign assistance to the region while providing new jurisdictional bases for American victims that are consistent with longstanding U.S. policy. The bill also included an amendment offered by Grassley and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to subject the PA to U.S. court jurisdiction so long as it continues to compensate families of terrorists as discouraged by the bipartisan Taylor Force Act.