Today the Supreme Court decides which cases it will hear in the upcoming session; among the petitioners are a group of American citizens whose family members were murdered in Israel during the second intifada. A federal court had ordered the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to pay the plaintiffs $655.5 million, but a court of appeals then threw out the verdict on the grounds that foreign organizations could not be tried in American courts for crimes committed abroad. Yishai Schwartz argues that this latter decision is wrong, and that the Supreme Court should restore the ruling against the PLO and PA. (Free registration may be required.)
The decision [to reject the original verdict] rests on an old and venerable constitutional doctrine: “personal jurisdiction.” For hundreds of years, this doctrine has limited American state courts, confining their authority only to those present in a particular state or who have consented to be sued there. It is this sensible principle that prevents one state’s courts from encroaching onto its neighbor’s turf. In Sokolow v. PLO, [as this case is generally known], the appeals court applied the same principle to a foreign defendant in federal court. Personal jurisdiction, the court ruled, limits transnational cases in precisely the same way it limits interstate disputes. . . .
The ruling flies in the face of congressional will. After all, the law that permitted this lawsuit, the  Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), is unusual. Whereas most of America’s laws govern conduct within America, the ATA is different. . . . Its text specifically authorizes Americans to sue foreigners for acts of “international terrorism” occurring outside the United States and instructs courts not to dismiss suits simply because their location inconveniences defendants [as was done in Sokolow by] the appeals court, which held that the Constitution, through the doctrine of personal jurisdiction, protects the PLO’s fundamental right not to be sued from afar.
That decision gets the Constitution wrong. . . . [The doctrine of] personal jurisdiction has no place restricting the federal government’s interactions with foreign powers. The U.S. Constitution is about ensuring domestic tranquility, not guaranteeing fair treatment to foreign peoples. It protects, [for instance], New York’s sovereignty from Virginia. It was never intended to protect Palestinian sovereignty from the United States. . . . [Therefore], the Supreme Court should decide to hear the case, and restore the hard-fought judgment won by the victims of terror.