In a 6-2 ruling, the Supreme Court sided with U.S. victims of Iranian terrorism, allowing relatives of those killed in terrorist bombings to keep money seized from Iranian bank accounts. At issue in the case was whether or not congress had overstepped its bounds by writing a law which effectively declared a winner in a pending court case. The Hill reports on the background of the case:
In 2008, victims of multiple Iran-sponsored terror attacks went to court to get hold of $1.75 billion in Iranian assets held in a New York bank account. Among the litigants were relatives of people killed in the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1996 attacks on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.
In 2012, lawmakers came to the litigants’ aid by passing legislation specifying which assets could be handed over to victims of Iran-backed terror.
A court then ruled the bank had to turn that money over to victims in 2013. But the bank from which the money was seized claimed the 2012 law violated separation of powers. Justice Ginsburg (writing for the majority) disagreed, meaning the victims could collect the funds.
The dissent in the case was written by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justice Sotomayor. CNN reports on Roberts’ concern that the 2012 law did indeed violate separation of powers:
Roberts, who cares about the institution of the court perhaps more than any other justice wrote, “I readily concede, without embarrassment, that it can sometimes be difficult to draw the line between legislative and judicial power.”
He said, however, “the entire constitutional enterprise depends on their being such a line.”
“Hereafter, with this court’s seal of approval, Congress can unabashedly pick the winners and losers in particular pending cases,” he wrote.
Ted Olson, a lawyer for the victims, told CNN, “We are gratified that the court agreed that the law Congress enacted to provide relief to victims of terrorism complies with the Constitution.”