The U.S. Supreme Court on January 13 held a hearing on whether the families of victims of attacks blamed on Iran should receive $1.75 billion in compensation from frozen Iranian funds.
Bank Markazi, Iran's central bank, is trying to stave off court orders that would allow families to be paid for their losses.
The highest U.S. court is involved because the bank claims that Congress strayed into the business of federal courts when it passed a law in 2012 that specifically directs that the bank's assets in the United States be turned over to the families.
It was not clear from the hourlong hearing which side would prevail, but Chief Justice John Roberts aggressively questioned whether Congress impermissibly tried to dictate the outcome of the dispute.
"Their job is to pass laws; our job is to decide a case. When there's a dispute under one of the laws they pass, that's our job," Roberts said.
On the other side, Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that Congress and the president, who signed the law, have broad authority when it comes to foreign affairs.
The case is before the court at a sensitive time, within days of the United States lifting economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for its compliance with curbs on nuclear activities.