Specter questions Sotomayor on 9/11 lawsuit

By Chris Mondics
Inquirer Staff Writer
Jul. 17, 2009

Sen. Arlen Specter suggested during Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing yesterday that the Obama administration sought to block Supreme Court review of lawsuits blaming Saudi Arabia for the Sept. 11 attacks for fear of offending an important ally.

The remark came as the Pennsylvania Democrat questioned Sotomayor on whether the Supreme Court, by deciding ever fewer cases, had effectively ducked important constitutional questions left unresolved by lower courts.

In a July 7 letter to Sotomayor, Specter also raised the issue of Saudi involvement in the attacks, asserting that "plaintiffs' counsel had developed considerable evidence showing Saudi complicity."

Law firms representing thousands of victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families, along with insurers and other interests that suffered economic losses, sued the government of Saudi Arabia and senior members of its royal family, alleging that they financed Islamic charities that, in turn, bankrolled al-Qaeda.

On June 29, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of lower-court rulings that the Saudi government and members of its royal family cannot be sued under U.S. law for allegedly supporting terrorism. Shortly before that ruling, the Obama administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to reject the case, in part because the administration had not given its sign-off.

The Center City law firm Cozen O'Connor represents most of the insurers in the case and led the Supreme Court appeal. The South Carolina-based firm Motley Rice represents thousands of 9/11 victims and their families.

At yesterday's hearing, Specter said: "There was a case in which the Supreme Court denied certiorari just a couple of weeks ago involving claims for damages brought by survivors of victims of Sept. 11 against certain individuals in Saudi Arabia. The executive branch interposed objections to having that case decided because of the sensitivity of matters with Saudi Arabia.

"Don't you think that this is the kind of case the Supreme Court should have heard?"

Sotomayor deflected the question, saying she had not been part of the Supreme Court discussion and thus could not make a judgment.

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