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Federal court rules probable cause required for charity asset freeze

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] late Tuesday that the federal government cannot freeze the assets of an organization suspected of terrorism ties without probable cause. Judge James Carr also ruled that the government must tell the organization the basis for the asset freeze and give the organization the opportunity to defend itself. The ruling came in the case of Kindhearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development [ACLU materials], which sued the federal government in 2008 after the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) [official website] froze its assets in 2006, alleging it was providing support to US-designated terrorist group Hamas [JURIST news archive]. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] brought the suit [complaint, PDF] on plaintiffs' behalf. ACLU cooperating attorney Hina Shamsi said [press release]:

This historic ruling rejects the government's argument that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures does not apply when a case raises national security and foreign policy concerns. The ruling provides a much-needed judicial check on executive power. Until now, the administration has been able to unilaterally and indefinitely freeze the assets of a U.S. corporation without probable cause and a warrant.

There is no word on whether the government plans an appeal.

In February, several advocacy, rights, and philanthropic groups filed an amicus curiae brief [text, PDF; JURIST report] in the case, arguing against the classification of some charitable groups as terrorist organizations without due process. The brief argued that the designation of charitable groups as terrorist organizations without due process violates the groups' constitutional rights and discourage and undermine their humanitarian aid efforts. Kindhearts had argued that OFAC's asset freeze, investigation, and refusal to allow KindHearts to dispute OFAC's findings were arbitrary and capricious, and violated KindHearts' First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment [text] rights.

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