US rights groups back high court challenge to terrorism support laws

US rights groups back high court challenge to terrorism support laws

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), the Constitution Project (CP), and the Rutherford Institute [advocacy websites] filed amici curiae briefs [ACLU brief, PDF; CP brief, PDF] Tuesday backing a challenge [JURIST report] to a federal law [18 USC § 2339B(a)(1)] that prohibits providing material support to terrorism. The groups supported a Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) [advocacy website] argument that the law defines "material support" too broadly. In a press release [text] that accompanied the filings, ACLU staff attorney Melissa Goodman summarized that group's view on the law:

The material support law is so vague and broad that peace, human rights and aid groups are left hopelessly guessing whether their constitutionally-protected speech could land them in jail…Cutting off aid to terrorism is undoubtedly an important government interest, but criminalizing legitimate peace-building and humanitarian work – including advocacy to end terrorism and violence – does nothing to further that interest and actually makes it more difficult to achieve.

The case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project [CCR backgrounder], was granted certiorari [docket] by the US Supreme Court in September after the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down [opinion, PDF] parts of the law while upholding others. Earlier this month, the Constitution Project issued a report [text, PDF] calling for the reform of the material support laws which they claim criminalize protected speech. HLP has also challenged [JURIST report] Executive Order 13224 [DOT materials], which prohibits unlicensed US groups and individuals from providing services to certain terrorist organizations designated by the government.