The United States Supreme Court ruled that ancient Persian objects cannot be seized to satisfy a legal judgement against Iran.
The ruling stems from a 1997 bombing in Jerusalem, which killed five civilians. Several American survivors sued Iran in U.S. court, charging the country “provided material support for the attackers,” as Reutersreported. A court awarded them $71.5 million in damages, which Iran refused to pay. The survivors then moved to seize the Persian artifacts, held by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, in lieu of payment. But lower courts sided against the plaintiffs, finding that Iranian property is protected from seizure under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which shields foreign governments from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, with some exceptions. The plaintiffs appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued its opinion Wednesday. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the majority decision in the 8-0 case (Justice Elena Kagan abstained) in which the court found that, even though FISA carves out exceptions for government sponsors of terrorism, the artifacts in this case remain immune from seizure.