The Senate overrode Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terror Act (JASTA) earlier today by a vote of 97-1. Daniel DePetris explains why the bill probably won’t have the effect its supporters desire:
In the end, however, all of the lobbying from the 9/11 families, and the millions of dollars spent by the Saudis in return, obscure an important fact about JASTA: the legislation is far more symbolic than anything else. Any teeth the bill had were taken out when senators amended the legislation to make it more palatable to the Obama administration.
In one of the biggest loopholes in the bill, the attorney general would possess the power to ask a judge to pause any judicial proceeding against a foreign state for 180 days if he or she certified that Washington was engaged in “good faith discussions with the foreign state defendant” on the charges. The government, in effect, could ask the judge to stop the proceedings in order to arrive at some kind of settlement. And if the judge granted the attorney general’s initial request—something that Steve Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas, argues is very likely given past precedent—the U.S. government could receive additional 180-day extensions as long as the discussions continued.
These loopholes give the Saudi government a way to stymie any lawsuits against them as long as there is an administration willing to cover for them. Since that’s the case, overriding Obama’s veto has more to do with striking a popular pose than it has to do with giving the families of 9/11 victims their day in court. The contrast with last week’s debate over the latest arms sale to the Saudis could hardly be greater. When there was a resolution before the Senate that might actually send a meaningful message of disapproval to Riyadh, the vast majority of senators was against it. Present the same group with a defanged bill that probably won’t do anything, and they’re all for it. The Senate had its chance to hold the Saudis accountable for their ongoing destructive behavior in Yemen, and opted to side with the Saudis. Voting for JASTA allows many of the same members to cast a symbolic anti-Saudi vote while still backing the unhealthy U.S.-Saudi relationship and the administration’s disastrous support for the war on Yemen.
Update: The House has voted 348-77 to override Obama’s veto.