Back in 1998, Al Qaeda detonated some truck bombs in Kenya and Tanzania, near the US embassies there. It became pretty clear that Al Qaeda was behind it, and that Sudan had given them some training and safe harbor for their part in these bombings.
So families of the victims decided to sue the fuck out of Sudan for wrongful death. Sudan didn’t give a fuck, and didn’t even bother to show up to court to defend themselves.
As is typical in a civil court proceeding, if you don’t show up to defend yourself, you’re going to lose your judgement. And they did.
So then, when awards were handed down, they decided to appeal. Hard to appeal when you didn’t bother to defend yourself, but fuck it. They’re going for it.
Most countries have sovereign immunity in a U.S. court, which basically means they’re not bound to any U.S. law, and therefore can’t typically be sued in a U.S. court. But, under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), a country determined to be involved in terrorism loses such sovereign immunity, and can be subject to a lawsuit. It’s not the easiest thing to enforce, but if these nations happen to have money parked in the United States, we’ll seize that shit.
In 2008, Congress amended the law to allow for punitive damages in such a suit. So the Sudanese government is challenging on the grounds that this shit occurred ten years before the punitive damages amendment to the law, and therefore, the action is not open for punitive damages.
In an 8-0 unanimous decision (Kavanaugh couldn’t be bothered, and decided to sit this one out), SCOTUS sided with Opati. They determined that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) is retroactive, and applies to things that happened prior to it being written, such as these bombings.