Justice that was delayed for more than a decade for 10 American families victimized by Palestinian terrorism was denied last week by a federal court here.
By a 3-0 vote, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court lacked jurisdiction in a case where a 2015 jury had found the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the Palestinian Authority, its governing entity, responsible for six terror attacks between 2002 and 2004 that killed 33 people and wounded 450. The Appeals court dismissed the civil lawsuit and overturned the jury’s $218.5 million award, which had automatically tripled to $655.5 million under terms of the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act.
While the acts of terrorism during the Second Intifada uprising in Israel and the Palestinian territories “were unquestionably horrific,” the appeal court’s decision stated, “the federal courts cannot exercise jurisdiction in a civil case beyond the limits prescribed by the due process clause of the Constitution.”
In other words, the judges ruled U.S. courts are not the proper venue for the relatives of U.S. citizens who are killed in terrorist attacks abroad to seek justice.
The appeal court’s ruling deprives the plaintiffs not only the possibility of collecting monetary damages — unlikely in the current international diplomatic climate — but also of at least claiming a moral victory, of having their losses formally recognized and of having the perpetrators held accountable.
The court’s decision, according to Marc Stern, general counsel at the American Jewish Committee, “guts an act of Congress,” which passed the Anti-Terrorism Act a quarter century ago to enable U.S. citizens to seek redress for outrages committed overseas. Though the act is in place, “you can never bring an action [seeking financial damages] under it,” Stern noted, if last week’s ruling widens the precedent that exempts terrorist organizations from legal culpability in this country’s court system.
“The very terrorists who prompted the law have now hidden behind the U.S. Constitution to avoid responsibility for their crimes,” commented Kent Yalowitz, an attorney for the victims’ families, who described the ruling as “cruel.”
The defendants in the case against the PLO/Palestinian Authority may appeal to the Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee the justices will agree to hear the case. If they do, that process could take several more years. Better justice delayed, though, than justice denied.