So the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) happened. That leads to some questions. In a typical legal suit, a nation's courts would handle it, and the ruling would be enforced by the military/police/governing body. It is through the power of government that it's courts have the authority to rule on disputes.

On an international scale, historically "Authority" has been "Military". While I certainly hope that JASTA doesn't say "any sovereign nation that refuses to pay up to a private citizen will be considered in contempt of the US and military action will be taken", I can't think of any other solution to how to enforce JASTA rulings.

On top of that, in a citizen against citizen legal suit, the Jury is required to be an impartial Jury of peers. I doubt that any court within either nation on a side of the dispute could be considered impartial. Other nations would have to be willing to hear cases, so how could only a US bill alone accomplish this?

  • 1
    Interesting question. I would assume that it provides some mechanism for confiscating financial assets in the US owned by the sued country if it doesn't pay up on its own. These days economic force is just as viable as military.
    – Bobson
    Oct 5, 2016 at 15:42
  • 2
    I think this question is better suited on Law SE.
    – Rathony
    Oct 5, 2016 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


Lawsuits would be filed in a US court; US courts look to US law to decide if they have jurisdiction, so if US law gives them jurisdiction then they have it. There would likely be no jury; the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act doesn't provide for a jury for lawsuits against foreign countries in federal court, and if a foreign country is sued in state court they can have it removed to federal court. And "authority" doesn't imply "military," particularly not in the past 50 years.

One more thing: JASTA isn't providing some brand-new exception to this principle that has historically been inviolable. There are widely accepted exceptions to the principle of sovereign immunity, like waiver and commercial activity (if Canada decides to open up a chain of gas stations in the US, they have to obey US law). Since the day it was passed, FSIA has provided for when lawsuits can be filed, how they're handled (no jury, can be taken to federal court), and how judgments can be enforced.

So how are judgments enforced? Countries tend to own a lot of property outside their borders; if Sweden owns property in the US and a US court orders the property seized, the property is seized. Foreign sovereign immunity generally includes an immunity from execution (i.e. a court can't just order the property of a foreign government seized), but this doesn't necessarily apply if the property is commercial in nature. A Swedish warship visiting a US port cannot be seized, nor can the Swedish Embassy; however, if Sweden owns stock in Google, that might be able to be seized.

There are other ways to get paid. The US could impose economic sanctions on the country until they pay. The US could apply diplomatic pressure to pay. If Congress steps in, you have still more options (like cutting their foreign aid and redirecting it to the plaintiff). New York is the world's primary financial hub. That gives the US a lot of power.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .