The Supreme Court declined on Monday to revive a lawsuit brought by 11 American families against the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization.
The ruling, issued without comment from the justices, is a loss for victims and their family members who brought suit under federal law for seven terror attacks committed during a wave of violence in Israel.
In 2015, a US jury awarded the victims a $655.5 million judgment under the Anti-Terrorism Act. But a federal appeals court wiped away that judgment, holding that the federal courts lacked jurisdiction over the defendants in the case because they didn’t have a strong enough connection to the United States to justify subjecting them to a lawsuit.
“The terror machine gun attacks and suicide bombings that triggered this suit and victimized these plaintiffs were unquestionably horrific,” a panel of judges on the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held. “But the federal courts cannot exercise jurisdiction in a civil case beyond the limits prescribed by the due process clause of the Constitution, no matter how horrendous the underlying attacks or morally compelling the plaintiff’s claims.”
Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, an attorney for the family members, appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the lower court opinion would “cut the heart out of a vital federal statute.”
The Trump administration urged the court to stay out of the dispute, saying there were currently no splits among the circuits that would warrant the Supreme Court’s intervention.
“The brief filed by the Trump administration was an interesting example of the government trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“The Justice Department didn’t fully defend the decision below, but they argued — successfully, as it turns out — that the ruling wasn’t so problematic as to warrant the justices’ intervention,” Vladeck added.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the “United States sympathizes deeply with the American families who, in 2004, sued the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization for acts of terrorism committed against their loved ones between 2002 and 2004.”
She added, “the court of appeals decided, however, that the suit was not consistent with due process under the Constitution, and its decision does not meet the usual standards for Supreme Court review. We will continue to support wherever possible all lawful actions to fight terrorism and provide redress to the victims of terrorist attacks and their families.”