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Legal Expert: Overriding 'Sovereign Immunity' Bad Idea


The head of the Florida Bar’s International Law Section says Congress is making a big mistake by allowing 9-11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

Miami attorney Alvin Lindsay says President Barack Obama is right when he warns the law will invite retaliation in foreign courts.

“It could easily boomer rang and the law of unintended consequences could prevail when foreigners start suing the United States of America in their courts for perceived actions, perceived damages, based on governmental conduct.”

Congress was under enormous political pressure to hand Obama his first veto override, Lindsay says. But it violates a doctrine known as sovereign immunity that prevents lawsuits from bringing governments to a screeching halt.

The bill is limited to 911 victims. But Lindsay says Cuban immigrants in Miami could be inspired to sue their former government for lost property.

“There are a number of Miami residents who would like to do that and have talked about doing that for years. Again, this could be part of the slippery slope. They may well use this as justification for attempting to do that.”

Judgements in foreign courts are often enforced against US citizens through the doctrine of “comety” or mutual respect.  It depends on the case, and whether a U.S. court is willing to “domesticate” the foreign judgement.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.