Family members of those who died in the 9/11 attacks have lobbied Congress to pass legislation that would allow them to sue Saudi Arabia. Those families got a partial victory on the Friday before the 15th anniversary of that tragedy. The House passed a bill by voice vote that would allow families to take legal action against that country for alleged connections between Saudi officials and 9/11 terrorists. The bill passed in the Senate by unanimous consent earlier this year.
Diplomatic and Economic Concerns
If the bill became law, courts could waive foreign sovereign immunity claims by other countries regarding terrorist attacks in the U.S. that are traced back to them. Evidence could be presented of a country's ties to those who carried out attacks.
However, the bill faces an uphill battle. President Obama has said that he would not sign it. The administration believes that it would set a legal precedent that could impact U.S. diplomats serving overseas who currently have diplomatic immunity and also damage our economic and diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has threatened to sell U.S. assets if the law is enacted.
What Happens to the Bill Next?
Now, this is where a bit of Government 101 is necessary to explain why the families remain concerned. The president has 10 days after he receives the bill to veto it. If he doesn't, it automatically becomes law. Assuming that he vetoes it, it goes back to Congress, which can then override the veto, and it would become law.
However, with the November elections less than two months away, legislators are preparing to leave Washington to hit the campaign trail. If Congress isn't in session when that 10-day deadline is upon President Obama, he can "pocket veto" the bill, preventing it from becoming law. Other presidents have used this option.
"You Can Campaign After"
Victims' families are calling on legislators to stay in Washington until the 10 days runs out to get the bill passed. They're also calling on President Obama not to veto the bill. A veto would likely not help the Democrats he's supporting in November.
This case shows how politics and the legal system are often inextricably linked. Courts and attorneys are often governed by the decisions made in Congress as well as state legislatures.
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