WASHINGTON — In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit by about 6,000 Israelis affected by Palestinian terrorism to get redress from Jordan’s Arab Bank, which allegedly delivered money to the groups that carried out the acts.
Writing for the conservative majority in the decision posted Tuesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that U.S. courts were too remote from the actions involved to rule. Kennedy cited the “relatively minor connection between the terrorist attacks at issue in this case and the alleged conduct in the United States.”
The plaintiffs — victims of terrorism and their families — had sued under the Alien Tort Act, which allows foreign nationals to sue one another in a U.S. court if there is some American involvement in the action. In this case, the plaintiffs cited the presence of Arab Bank offices in New York and claimed the bank had facilitated money transfers for the terrorist groups that carried out the attacks.
“The Supreme Court today dealt a significant blow in the fight to hold foreign corporations conducting business in the United States accountable for violations of international law that cause harm to innocent civilians worldwide,” Michael Elsner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Reuters.
The Trump administration, not weighing in on either side, nonetheless had filed a brief saying that the government would prefer that the court preserve the use of the 1789 statute for use against corporations, but also argued that the case, Jesner v. Arab Bank, did not meet the standard of U.S. involvement to merit consideration in U.S. courts.
In recent years, the act has been used in U.S. courts for victims of human rights abuses to seek redress from their abusers. Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent said the ruling “absolves” corporations for “conscience shocking behavior.”
The case consolidated a number of lawsuits, some of which were launched as long ago as 2004. The lead plaintiff was Joseph Jesner, the father of a 19-year-old man murdered in a 2002 Tel Aviv bus bombing.
Arab Bank in a statement quoted by Reuters said the decision “affirms the bank’s belief that there is no basis to hold corporations liable under international law.”