Supreme Court won't hear case involving American victims of Palestinian terror

Eleven families sued the PLO and Yasser Arafat over seven terror attacks. They were awarded $655.5 million, but an appeals court threw that out.
by Pete Williams /  / Updated 
Image: Palestinians mark the 13th anniversary Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's death in Gaza City
Palestinians in Gaza City marked the 13th anniversary of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's death on Nov. 9, 2017.Adel Hana / AP file

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to revive a lawsuit against the Palestine Liberation Organization that was brought by Americans who were victimized by terror attacks in Israel.

Eleven American families sued the PLO, Yasser Arafat and others over seven terror incidents from 2001 to 2004, claiming that the attacks were perpetrated by security officers and other agents of the Palestinian Authority. The families invoked the federal Anti-Terrorism Act, which gives any American injured by an act of terrorism the right to sue for damages.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York threw the case out, ruling that victims must show that they were specifically targeted or that the attackers intended to harm U.S. interests. The court also said the Palestinian entities did not have a sufficient connection to the U.S. that would make them subject to federal law.

Without comment, as is the normal practice, the Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the appeal, leaving the lower court ruling intact. The Trump administration had urged the justices not to take the case, contending that it did not conflict with any other lower court rulings.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Mark Sokolow, was injured along with his wife and two daughters in a 2002 suicide bombing in Jerusalem. After a six-week jury trial in 2015, the families were awarded $655.5 million, but the appeals court set that verdict aside.

Theodore Olson, a Washington lawyer representing the families, urged the Supreme Court to hear the case and overrule the appeals court decision, saying that it eviscerated a critical component of American anti-terrorism policy.

Olson called the Trump administration's position "astonishing" and said the appeals court ruling "cut the heart out" of the anti-terrorism law, "draining it of its indisputable purpose — protecting U.S. citizens from international terrorism."

In a statement explaining its position, the Justice Department said it "sympathizes deeply with the American families," but said the court of appeals ruled 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."

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