Congress Has Voted to Override President Obama’s Veto of Bill that Allows Families to Sue Saudi Arabia for the Sept. 11 Attacks

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 9, 2016

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Twin TowersCongress has voted to override President Obama’s veto of the bill that would allow the families of those who were killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for its role in the attacks.

The Senate voted 97 to 1 and the House voted 348 to 77 to override President Obama’s veto. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, cast the lone dissenting vote in Senate. This new bill will allow American courts to seize Saudi assets to pay for any judgments obtained by the 9/11 families. Additionally, 9/11 families will now be able to sue Saudi Arabia directly to demand documents and other evidence.

This bill amends a 1976 law that granted foreign countries broad immunity from American lawsuits. Now, foreign countries may be sued in federal court if they are found to have had any role in the terrorist attacks that killed Americans on United States soil.

Reaction to the Veto Override

President Obama has spoken out against the bill, saying that Congress has set a “dangerous precedent…I think it was a mistake, and I understand why it happened…It’s an example of why sometimes, you have to do what’s hard, and frankly, I wish Congress here had done what’s hard. I didn’t expect it, because if you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has called the override the “single most embarrassing thing the United States Senate has done possibly since 1983… Ultimately these senators are going to have to answer their own conscience and their constituents as they account for their actions today.”

Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas stated that, “In our polarized politics of today, this is pretty much close to a miraculous occurrence…gives the victims of the terrorist attack on our own soil an opportunity to seek the justice they deserve.”

Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that he shared some of President Obama’s concerns, but that the rights of the 9/11 families outweighed them. “We cannot in good conscience close the courthouse door to those families who have suffered unimaginable losses.” 

Potential Consequences

However, some members of Congress expressed some reservations about the potential political consequences of the new law. Within hours of the vote, almost 30 senators signed a letter that expressed concern about the new law, including the possibility that the United State may now face lawsuits in foreign courts “as a result of important military or intelligence activities.”

Lorie Van Auken, whose husband worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and died in the 9/11 attacks stated, “I don’t think anybody should ever have any immunity for what happened on 9/11… It’s about justice. It’s about where this will lead us. It’s not about money.”

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