A bipartisan majority of 97 to 1 in the US Senate has rejected President Barack Obama's veto of legislation that would allow families of those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot.
Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, was the only one left siding with the president. This marks the first time in Obama's presidency that Congress overrides his veto.
Survivors and families of victims of the September 11 attacks will be empowered under the act to sue the Saudi Arabian government for its alleged involvement in funding the 9/11 attackers. Fifteen out of the 19 attackers were Saudi nationals.
"Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much these days, but we agree on JASTA. Both parties agree that the families of the 9/11 victims deserve justice. That, more than anything else, should weigh most heavily on our minds today," " Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate's leading Democratic sponsor, was quoted saying.
Survivors and families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have been fighting for 15 years to get this legislation. But President Obama had vetoed the bill because of concerns that it will complicate relations with the Saudis whose support as a key Middle Eastern ally figures significantly for America's foreign affairs.
Another reason is that the law may have unintended consequences, such as possibly opening the door for other countries to sue the US and top American officials for programs they view as illegal, like the US drone strike program. More specifically, the law may damage sovereign immunity, the legal doctrine where countries can't sue other countries for violating the law.
Saudi Arabia had also warned the Obama administration and members of Congress that the law could force them to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars worth of American assets to avoid from being seized in court settlements.
However, dismissing the concerns, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said that the vote wasn't aimed at Saudi Arabia, but rather giving victim's some agency.
"When our interests diverge and it's a question of protecting American rights and American values, I think we should do that. This is not about severing our relationship with any ally. This is simply a matter of justice," said the Senator.