Tag Archive | "Barack Obama"

Photo Credit: National Park Service

President Obama to Veto 9/11 Tort Legislation to Protect Sovereign Immunity

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Photo Credit: National Park Service

On Monday, September 12, 2016, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that despite bipartisan support, President Obama is likely to veto legislation approved by Congress, which would allow the families and victims of the September 11, 2011 attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for any role it might have had in the attacks. The name of this bill is the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).

While the highly emotional motivation behind this piece of legislation is completely understandable: Protecting the United States and the concept of sovereign immunity, which protects U.S. diplomats, U.S. service members and U.S. companies from the possibility of being hailed into courts around the world.

In a rare showing of bipartisanship, Congress has placed President Obama in a perilous position. By passing this legislation, many initial observers view President Obama’s veto as preventing families and victims of the 9/11 attacks from seeking justice. However, the eyes of patrons championing this view are clouded by emotion and the atrocity of the 9/11 attacks. President Obama correctly understands that there are ways for families and victims of the 9/11 attacks to seek justice without alienating a long-time ally in Saudi Arabia, and without leaving United States citizens and entities vulnerable to legal action brought by foreign nations. Furthermore, the purpose of JASTA was all-but eviscerated by the subtle changes the Senate made to the bill just before passing it. The net effect of these changes make it all-but impossible for the 9/11 victims and their families to actually recover damages, even if they can prove Saudi Arabia’s involvement.

In a world already stretched thin from numerous international conflicts, the international legal implications of a world without sovereign immunity, as we know it, are unfathomable. Additionally, if JASTA were to pass, it would likely provoke Saudi Arabia, and potentially other countries, to remove billions of dollars of assets from U.S. soil. From a purely strategic point of view, at a time when the United States is tightly locked in a proxy war in Syria and Iraq against ISIS, this is simply not the time to lose any friends in the Middle East.

Even if President Obama does veto this piece of legislation, it’s possible Congress might have enough votes to override his veto. If this were to occur, it would be first veto-override of President Obama’s presidency.

Joseph Apisdorf is currently a second-year law student at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and managing editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Protesters at the White House

News Post: Will the United States Approve the Keystone XL pipeline?

Protesters at the White House

Protesters at the White House

On Thursday November 10, the U.S. Government stayed approval of TransCanda Corporation’s Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election.  The Canada-U.S. pipeline would carry 700,000 barrels a day of heavy crude extracted mainly from Alberta’s oil sands and used for refining on the Texas Gulf Coast.  As currently designed, the pipeline would cross the Canadian border, extend through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and into Texas.  This project is allegedly “shovel ready” and it could potentially generate scores of jobs.  In addition to acting as a boom to the economies of Canada and the U.S., the project could relieve a supply bottleneck causing a “disconnect between depressed U.S. Midwest oil prices and global rates paid on the coast.” On the other hand, those in opposition to the pipeline are raising serious concerns regarding negative effects to the health, safety, and environment.  Whilst the Government delays the decision, many eagerly await the answer to whether the United States will approve or refuse this momentous project.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a supporter of the pipeline, has voiced his belief that the $7 billion project is in the best interests of both the Canadian and U.S. economies.  It is anticipated that the pipeline could bring 20,000 “well-paying jobs” to the U.S. alone, just for its construction.  It is also estimated that as many as 130,000 jobs could be generated after project completion.  Some analysts fear the delay could kill the project and argue that the project’s failure would result in a lost opportunity to create jobs and enhance energy security.

The U.S State Department’s decision to delay approval of the pipeline was largely based on environmental concerns.  The department’s particular rationale was the need to study an alternate route that would avoid environmentally fragile territory in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.  Other concerns included large emissions of green house gases generated by the production of oil sands crude and its related effect on human health and safety. Moreover, the ongoing production of oil would require the cutting of 740,000 acres of boreal forest in Canada.  The decision was therefore viewed as a victory for environmental groups.  However, others argue that the delay was merely a political strategy, and that concerns over environmental impact from the pipeline were resolved when Energy Secretary Steven Chu publicly endorsed the project following findings by some experts that the potential impact would be nil.

Others have voiced concerns that the delay will strain relations between the United States and Canada.  This political strain will most likely be short-lived. However, the project’s failure could put Canada in a precarious position.  The European Union is already considering labeling oil sands crude as “inherently polluting under a new fuel quality directive.”  Without access to the Texas refineries and European markets, Canada will have to shift its priorities to accessing Asian markets for energy production.  The Canadian government further warns that energy prices across Europe may be driven higher as a result.

The debate over this pipeline’s approval reflects the conflict between the demand for economic growth and environmental protection.  The conflict, however, is not unique to the United States and Canada.  The evolving contours of environmental protection in the face of economic growth has been, and continues to be, discussed by the United Nations as well as by a myriad of individual countries.  Conflicts such as the Keystone Pipeline project indicate that a single country’s judgment on the balance between environmental protection and economic growth will directly affect its neighbors and the greater global community as a whole.  Consequently, it is becoming increasingly clear that discourse regarding environmental ethics and further development of ethical standards in relation to economic growth at an international level is indispensable for our global community.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law