Don’t delegate foreign and counter-terror policy to trial lawyers

The Washington Post’s editorialists agree with former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and former attorney general Michael Mukasey: President Obama is right to plan a veto of a bill passed in the House by a voice vote enabling lawsuits by victims of terror attacks against sovereign countries such as Saudi Arabia over conduct that allegedly contributed to the attacks. Delegating foreign and counter-terror policy to trial lawyers not only wrenches away delicate questions of negotiation and sanctions-imposition from the executive branch to which our Constitutional scheme confides them, but also invites foreign legal systems to begin opening up avenues for lawsuits against the government of the United States. There’s a reason comity and sovereign immunity have stood for centuries as pillars of international law. News coverage: Karoun Demirjian, Washington Post and more.


  • I agree that U.S. foreign and counter-terror policy needs to be left alone, and not subjected to individual lawsuits. But I disagree with the premise that it is trial lawyers who are responsible for any threat to the sanctity of that policy. Instead, I think that there are victims of terrorist attacks, and their families, who have been devastated and want to see some justice. It is understandable that they would turn to the courts. But I don’t see any big push by trial lawyers to attract plaintiffs in such lawsuits, which must be difficult to mount and prove, and must involve a large commitment of cash. (I am happy to be proven wrong.) Life is difficult enough for trial lawyers as it is.

  • Andrew Barovick is right that such lawsuits have been difficult to mount and prove, and would tax the resources of conventional law firms. This 2015 report indicates that among the firms leading the effort are Cozen O’Connor, Motley Rice, and the Simmons firm of asbestos fame. Motley Rice, forever linked to the massive tobacco settlement, has taken a very public role in the litigation for more than a decade.

  • What an anti-libertarian world-view. We should get government out of everything, why not out of inter-governmental relations, i.e., diplomacy? what we really need is an international tort court. But, then, countries would have to give up sovereign immunity to be liable for money damages.

  • Allan– Are you seriously suggesting that courts, dependent on police, prisons, and other government resources to function and enforce their rulings, are not part of government?

  • I don’t think I suggested that courts were not part of the government. I think I suggested that the libertarian view would be that courts be private, not governmental, entities.

  • Allen–
    In other words, moot courts whose rulings have no legal/governmental effect?

  • All libertarians I know acknowledge that without Rule of Law, which includes the court systems, no government can effectively defend liberty.

    Most also feel that free people should be able to contract to use private courts to settle private disputes if they so wish.