By David Ingram and Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked the Obama administration to weigh in on a case that raises whether bank secrecy laws protect Arab Bank Plc from turning over documents in lawsuits in U.S. courts.
The high court, which is considering whether to hear the case, made the request to the Justice Department's Office of the Solicitor General.
The Jordan-based bank is challenging a federal judge's ruling against it for failing to turn over documents in lawsuits in which the bank is accused of providing banking services to Hamas and other militant groups the United States labels as terrorist organizations.
Arab Bank said judge's ruling was forcing it to choose between running afoul of the U.S. court or violating bank secrecy laws in Lebanon, Jordan and other countries.
The lawsuits were brought by U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who were the victims, or the family members of victims, of attacks allegedly committed by Hamas in Israel and Palestinian territories between 1994 and 2005. They brought the suits under two U.S. laws, the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Alien Tort Claims Act.
The U.S. State Department designated Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.
About 6,500 people are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, according to the bank's lawyers. The lawsuits have yet to go to trial.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January upheld the punishment imposed by U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon in saying that a jury could take into account the fact the bank had withheld certain documents when reaching a verdict.
Gershon's sanction would allow jurors to infer, if they wished, that the bank's failure to produce those documents meant that it had knowingly provided financial services to designated terrorist organizations. Arab Bank appealed, saying Gershon's punishment was overly harsh.
The case is Arab Bank v. Linde, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-1485
(Reporting by David Ingram and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller)