Congress voted to override a veto by President Barack Obama for the first time on Wednesday. The legislation would allow families with members killed on 9-11 to sue Saudi Arabia for its role in the attacks.
“It’s quite dramatic just in that sense alone, not to mention the nature of the legislation and the position of Saudi Arabia,” said University of Kansas associate dean for international and comparative law Raj Bhala.
Saudi Arabia is looking to put a small portion of its oil company, Aramco, on the public market. Potential lawsuits and their conflicts with Yemen and Syria could make that not as attractive to foreign investors.
“The Saudis lobbied very hard against this legislation,” Bhala said. “The votes to override were not even close. Many congressmen and senators took the view that, however close the alliance is and however much cooperation there is on security and intelligence matters, the principle of justice for the victims took precedence.”
Bhala said the law does not create a new claim against the Saudi government, but instead, it removes a defense that a government official would raise. In previous international law, it was never allowed to sue a king or sovereign. This law would remove that restriction in this case.