WASHINGTON, April 20 (UPI) -- Victims of terrorist attacks backed by Iran can collect nearly $2 billion in Iranian funds, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The court ruled 6-2 that Congress had not exceeded its authority when it passed a law aimed at securing such restitution from funds held in a New York bank.
The ruling ends a long quest by more than 1,000 victims of terrorist attacks sponsored by Iran, including family members of 241 U.S. Marines killed in the 1983 barracks bombing in Lebanon. The attack was blamed on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia backed by Iran.
The victims earlier won the right to collect damages from Iran, but because the country's government refused to pay, the court was asked to seize assets from Bank Markazi in New York frozen by the U.S. government. The families then persuaded Congress to pass a law allowing them to seize Iran's money.
"(The law) provides a new standard clarifying that, if Iran owns certain assets, the victims of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks will be permitted to execute against those assets," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing the majority. "Applying laws implementing Congress' policy judgments, with fidelity to those judgments, is commonplace for the Judiciary."
Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissented from the majority opinion, saying Congress had interfered with the judiciary in passing the law while the case was pending in the courts.
Lawyers for the bank claimed Congress unconstitutionally directed the courts to reach an outcome, violating separation of powers and international treaties.
Theodore Olson, who argued the case for the families, said, "The decision will bring long overdue relief to more than 1,000 victims of Iranian terror and their families, many of whom have waited for decades."
The lead plaintiff was Deborah Peterson, whose brother Lance Cpl., James C. Kipple of Alexandria, Virginia, was killed in the Beirut barrack attacks.
In 2001, the Peterson plaintiffs, along with family members and the estates of 241 Beirut bombing victims, filed suit in U.S. courts against Iran. Six years later, a federal district court held the plaintiffs established Iran's liability, and the following year, the plaintiffs learned that the Bank of Markazi had $1.75 billion in assets held in an account in New York.
"Today's ruling is a major victory not just for the plaintiffs in their quest to hold the Iranian government responsible for acts of terrorism, but for Congress in its ability to change the rules of pending lawsuits even as they're unfolding," said Steve Vladeck, professor of law at American University and a CNN legal analyst.