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