Notre Dame law professor argues for terrorists’ victims

January 11, 2016

Notre Dame Law School professor Jimmy Gurulé is urging the Supreme Court of the United States to let terrorists’ victims have access to nearly $2 billion in Iranian assets frozen in a New York bank.

Gurulé has written an amicus brief on behalf of a group of national security law professors from around the country for the case Bank Markazi, aka The Central Bank of Iran  v. Deborah D. Peterson et al., 14-770. Arguments are scheduled for Wednesday.

The bank is challenging 22 U.S.C. 8772, enacted by Congress in 2012, that permitted relatives of Americans killed in multiple Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks to access $1.75 billion in Iranian assets held by Citibank.

Central to the financial institution’s arguments is the contention that Congress violated the separation of powers act. It holds the legislative branch enacted Section 8772 solely to impact the outcome of the victims’ case against Bank Markazi.

“If Congress can simply commandeer the judiciary and dictate how courts must decide individual cases before them, Congress might as well take the bench and rule on cases by legislative decree,” Bank Markazi argues in its brief.  

Gurulé and his colleagues counter Congress acted within its authority and that Section 8772 is part of a comprehensive set of economic sanctions against Iran.

Also the professors point out the statute does not require the assets held by Citibank be used to satisfy judgments against Iran but rather clarifies that certain assets could be used. Currently there are 18 judgments against Iran for terrorist activities for which the country has never made any payments.

“Instead the petitioner uses this litigation as an attempt to evade its responsibility to pay valid judgments awarded by Article III courts to the surviving family members of United States nationals killed or seriously wounded by Iranian-sponsored acts of terrorism,” Gurulé wrote. “Considering Iran’s reprehensible conduct in financing the terrorist attacks that support these judgments, followed by its staunch refusal to pay the resulting damages, petitioner’s contrived attempt to use separation of powers as a shield from its obligations is a perversion of revered constitutional precepts.”

Moreover, Gurulé and his colleagues assert that allowing blocked assets of a terrorist party to be used to satisfy judgment against a state sponsor of terrorism serves several important interests. In particular, it compensates the victims of terrorism, holds state sponsors accountable, and deters them from supporting terrorism in the future.

“Enforcing plaintiffs’ judgments will provide some minimum closure and compensation to victims and surviving family members, many of whom have waited for over thirty years for a measure of justice,” Gurulé wrote.



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