Iran, Cuba, and the Supreme Court

How Terrorism Restitution Cases Limit U.S. Foreign Policy

A general view of the Central Bank of Iran building in Tehran, January 23, 2006. Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters

On October 1, over the objection of the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a hearing to an unusual petitioner: Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran. The dispute centers around a statute, passed by Congress in 2012, that effectively ordered a federal district court to distribute Bank Markazi’s assets as restitution to the survivors and families of those killed by Iranian-sponsored terrorism. If held constitutional, the statute will enable plaintiffs to get hold of $2 billion worth of bonds, currently frozen in New York City, to satisfy some of the $43.5 billion that Iran owes to American victims. Among the plaintiffs are those affected by two catastrophic bombings in Beirut in 1983, which were conducted by the Iran-funded militant group Hezbollah. The attacks killed 17 employees at the U.S. embassy and 241 others at the U.S. Marines barracks.  

The Supreme Court’s eventual decision, and the findings in many

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