The Cost of Inaction


Congress has overridden President Obama's veto of a bill opening Saudi Arabia to liability in US courts for any role it may have had in the 9/11 attacks. This sets a troubling precedent. While it is difficult to fault Congress for pursuing this course of action[1], it undermines both the international legal system and the presidency.

Under international law, States are generally given sovereign immunity (i.e., they may not be haled into foreign courts). This is a bedrock principle of the international legal order and is of major importance in ensuring a functional[2] international system. Further, by granting individual citizens the right to sue Saudi Arabia in US courts, Congress and the Government at large are abdicating their duty to protect American citizens and to advance American interests. The US Government should be the one pursuing any case against Saudi Arabia, not individual victims or their survivors.

In the case of the presidency, this bill undermines the foreign policy and foreign affairs roles that are traditionally and Constitutionally a part of the powers and duties of the executive. Of course, Obama, in shirking his duties on the international stage and generally failing to pursue US interests abroad, has brought this upon himself. It is unfortunate that Congress has been left with little choice[3] but to subvert the Constitutional order in an attempt to ensure someone does the job Obama simply refuses to do.

Even if some members acted out of transparently political motivations. ↩︎

If we're willing to be a little loose with our definitions. ↩︎

Personally, I would have preferred a joint resolution calling upon Obama to perform his Constitutional duties and pursue any and all actions warranted against Saudi Arabia, but, of course, such a resolution would have been viewed as "political" and shot down by Democrats in Congress. ↩︎