A prominent Jewish-American organization strongly criticized the Department of Justice Solicitor General for denying victims of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority terrorist attacks from presenting their case on appeal to the Supreme Court on jurisdictional grounds, this reporter has learned.
The case of Mark Sokolow v Palestinian Liberation Organization/ Palestinian Authority has garnered little public attention over the past year. In 2004, the American victims filed a lawsuit against the PLO and the Palestinian Authority for aiding and planning terrorist attacks in Israel between 2001 and 2004. Nearly a decade later in 2015, a unanimous jury awarded $655 million to the victims. But the PLO and Palestinian Authority appealed the decision to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court’s verdict.
On Wednesday, the Zionist Organization of America responded sharply to President Trump’s DOJ Solicitor General Noel
“This position hurts the American terror victims, aids, and comforts terrorists…”
Zionist Organization of America
Francisco, stressing that the department’s decision failed the victims and weakened America’s position on fighting terrorist organizations.
“The Solicitor General’s position, representing the views of the United States, renders meaningless the Anti-Terrorism Act, a federal law that affords a crucial legal right and remedy to American victims of international terrorism,” stated the ZOA. “This position hurts the American terror victims, aids, and comforts terrorists, and makes them less concerned about facing consequences for their hideous actions.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the original decision in 2015. It argued that the Palestinian Authority was protected from U.S. court jurisdiction because the attacks “were not sufficiently connected to the United States” and were not “specifically targeted against United States citizens,” according to the court documents.
But the victims, along with the Congress, championed to have their case heard by the Supreme Court. The decision to petition the Supreme Court had strong Senate bipartisan support. It was believed by many involved in the case that it would also have the strong support of the Trump administration. The lawsuit was based on the Anti-Terrorism Act, which was championed in 1992 by Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley.
ZOA National Board Member David Schoen, who represented the plaintiffs in the Sokolow case during the pretrial stage said, “it is both shocking and sad that the Solicitor General has taken a position in this case that supports the untenable position of terrorists and that, if successful, will deny justice to the many American families who are suffering through tremendous tragedy as a result of the terrorism perpetrated and supported directly by the PLO and PA.” Schoen successfully argued against the PLO’s motion challenging the jurisdiction in the trial court. Schoen has also filed an amicus brief on behalf of the victims with the Supreme Court for the Restoring Religious Freedom Project, at Emory University.
“The Solicitor General’s position is a slap in the face to the many members of the House and Senate who filed their own amicus briefs, urging the Supreme Court to review the Second Circuit’s decision because it nullifies the (Anti-Terrorism Act) goals to afford terror victims a much-needed legal remedy and to deter international terrorism,” Schoen added.
Kerri Kupic, a spokeswoman for the DOJ Solicitor General told this reporter, that “the Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting those who commit terrorist attacks against innocent human beings to the fullest extent that the law allows.”
Kupic, who said the DOJ sympathizes deeply with the victims and their families, said: “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.”
Schoen vehemently disagrees with the DOJ saying the case “absolutely meets traditional criteria for Supreme Court review and specifically is a question of great importance. Also, it is exactly the kind of issue the Court has granted certiorari on in recent terms. Most of all, it is the DOJ’s job to defend the statutes passed by Congress. Why not here? Their brief is not written as if the concern is that the Court need not hear the case – they take the PLO side on the merits of the question.”
A government official and source involved in the case said the failure of the DOJ to challenge the appeals court may have more to do with the State Department than the actual law. According to one source, the State Department allegedly pressured the DOJ to file the brief against Sokolow and the other participants, in an effort not to raise tensions with the Palestinian Authority as the U.S. continues to deliberate the difficult process of trying to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
A State Department official declined to discuss what deliberations took place between the DOJ and State Department in the decision making. They did say, “we sympathize greatly with the injuries suffered by Mr. Sokolow, his family, and other families in the case, and we condemn the acts of terrorism that caused their injuries.”
“The views filed on February 22nd with the Supreme Court are the views of the U.S. as a whole,” the State Department official said. “The Office of the Solicitor General at the Department of Justice has the lead in developing U.S. government views on petitions for Supreme Court review, with input from other interested agencies. Consistent with our practice, we do not comment on interagency deliberations and refer you to DOJ for additional information about the filing.”
The plaintiffs and families in the Sokolow case are all U.S. citizens and they are now left with very little recourse unless the administration asks for something different.
After years of battling through appeals, in April 2017 Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, along with 22 colleagues, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of the victim’s families asking that the court review the case.
“You can kill and maim Americans overseas and we, the United States government, will make it harder, not easier, for victims to go after you and hold you responsible…”
Morton A. Klein
The amicus stated that the decision, “effectively deems un-constitutional the single most important feature of a federal statute that is vital to this nation’s counterterrorism capabilities. In doing so, the court of appeals disregarded Congress’s determinations in a manner that presents significant separation of powers concerns. In both respects, the Second Circuit erred. For these reasons, this Court’s review of the Second Circuit’s decision is warranted.”
At the time, Grassley stated, “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.”
Grassley also warned that the 2nd Circuit’s decision “disregarded the central purpose of the Antiterrorism Act, and could leave U.S. victims of terror abroad without important tools to seek justice. The Supreme Court should review this case and restore Congress’ action to hold terrorists accountable.”
In August 2017 House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce also attempted to get Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to advocate the DOJ his support for the case, according to reports.
Morton A. Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, said the decision by the administration was disheartening.
“The Solicitor General has sent an unacceptable message from the United States to the PLO, the PA and other groups responsible for perpetrating and materially supporting terrorism against American citizens: You can kill and maim Americans overseas and we, the United States government, will make it harder, not easier, for victims to go after you and hold you responsible,” said Klein.