Republic of Iraq v. Beaty

PETITIONER:Republic of Iraq
RESPONDENT:Jordan Beaty et al.
LOCATION:The Central Utah Narcotics Task Force

DOCKET NO.: 07-1090
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 556 US (2009)
GRANTED: Jan 09, 2009
ARGUED: Apr 20, 2009
DECIDED: Jun 08, 2009

Douglas Hallward-Driemeier – Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting petitioners
Jonathan S. Franklin – argued the cause for the petitioners
Thomas C. Goldstein – argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

In 2003, plaintiffs sued the Republic of Iraq in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for intentional infliction of emotional distress alleging they had been tortured and taken hostage during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The plaintiffs relied on 28 U.S.C. Section 1605(a)(7), an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which allowed for lawsuits against state sponsors of terrorism. Iraq moved to dismiss arguing that Section 1605(f) provides a limitations period of ten years for any action filed under Section 1605(a)(7). The district court agreed and dismissed the suit.

After the plaintiffs’ appeal, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which revised Section 1605(a)(7) granting the President authority to waive the exception to the FSIA with respect to Iraq, which he did. Iraq subsequently contended that because of the revision, the case should be dismissed. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed and reversed the district court. It held that the district court had jurisdiction. The court reasoned that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit was filed on time and not barred by the President’s waiver.


Do American courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits filed prior to the revision of 28 U.S.C. Section 1605(a)(7) against the Republic of Iraq when the alleged misdeeds occurred under the regime of Saddam Hussein?

Media for Republic of Iraq v. Beaty

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 20, 2009 in Republic of Iraq v. Beaty

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 08, 2009 in Republic of Iraq v. Beaty

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia has our opinion in case 07-1090, Republic of Iraq versus Beaty and the consolidated case.

Antonin Scalia:

These two cases come to us on writs of certiorari for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Respondents in these cases sued Iraq for monetary damages based on allegations of abuse and mistreatment by the Saddam Hussein regime during and following the first Gulf War.

In order to bypass the immunity from suit that ordinarily attaches to foreign sovereigns, respondents invoked a now repealed statutory provision, 28 U.S.C. Section 1605(a)(7) that stripped sovereign immunity if the foreign states actions giving rise to the claims were taken out of time when the foreign state was designated as a sponsor of terrorism pursuant to certain statutory provisions.

Iraq was so designated in 1990 and remained so during the period in question.

Iraq argued, however, that this statutory exception was unavailable because in 2003, Congress authorized the President to make inapplicable with respect to Iraq “Section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 or any other provision of law that applies to countries that have supported terrorism.”

The President exercised that power with respect to all such provisions of law which in Iraq’s view included the terrorism exception to foreign sovereign immunity.

But the Court of Appeals disagreed and allowed the suits to proceed.

We granted certiorari and consolidated the two cases.

Iraq’s reading of the statutory authorization is the most straightforward reading.

The terrorism exception to immunity is a provision of law and it applies to countries that have supported terrorism by virtue of their designation as such.

Accordingly, when the President made inapplicable as to Iraq, all provisions of law that applied to countries that have supported terrorism that included Section 1605(a)(7).

The Court of Appeals interpreted the authorization more narrowly because its language — the language authorizing the President to waive appeared in a proviso clause.

And we have said, pursuant to ordinary English, that provisos are often meant to clarify or limit the effect of the proceeding principal clause.

They — they are often used that way.

They should always be used that way but regrettably they’re not.

The authorizations principal clause permitted the President to suspend the Iraq Sanctions Act but the proviso purported to grant the President an additional power here.

Not the power, not to limit or restrain the principal power.

We therefore reject the Court of Appeals’ reading of the authorization statute.

And we likewise reject the alternative unpersuasive constructions offered by respondents before this Court which I will not describe.

A subsequent piece of legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, purported to ratify the Court of Appeals’ interpretation, but that statute has no bearing on our analysis.

It was an extraordinary provision which said that nothing in Section 1503 has ever authorized directly or indirectly to making inapplicable of any provision chapter 97, waiver of sovereign immunity.

But we think that has nothing to do with the present case because that statute in turn authorized the President to waive its application to Iraq and the President did so.

Finally, respondents contend that even if Iraq sovereign immunity was restored by the President’s actions, these actions sees to have force once the statutory authorization to waive expired via sunset provision in 2005.

We disagree.

The statute provided that the authorities it granted would expire.

That is the President’s authority to waive the application of the laws but it did not unlike at least one analogous statute also mandate a similar expiration for the waivers issued pursuant to those expired authorities.

As a result, Iraq’s sovereign immunity was restored when the President exercised his authority to make inapplicable with respect to Iraq any provision of law that applies to countries that have supported terrorism.

The courts below therefore lost jurisdiction over the suits and should have dismissed the cases.

The judgments of the Court of Appeals are reversed.

Antonin Scalia:

The opinion is unanimous.