News / USA

US Supreme Court Considers Terror Law Challenge

Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States

Sometime during the next few months, the Supreme Court of the United States will rule on a legal challenge to an anti-terrorism law that critics say limits free speech.  The law in question bars material support to terrorist groups.  But many U.S. based international aid groups argue that the statute is too broad and should be narrowed.  

The case was recently argued before the Supreme Court and stems from a humanitarian law group in California that wanted to support lawful activity by the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey and the Sri Lankan group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Both groups are among dozens of organizations on the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations, and therefore subject to the material support law that bans aid, training, services and expert advice to those groups.

But critics of the material support statute argue that it amounts to placing limits on free speech by preventing aid groups from advising designated terrorist groups on issues such as peace and conflict resolution.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole presented the oral argument challenging the law before the high court.

"The government cannot, consistent with the Constitution, make it a crime to engage in lawful discussion of peaceable activities," said David Cole.

Cole was part of a panel discussion at Georgetown University Law School and said many aid groups also find the material support law overly broad and confusing.

"So you are permitted to join one of these organizations," he said. "You are permitted, the government says, to go meet and discuss matters with the organization.  But if you engage in any coordinated advocacy, you are a criminal and can face 15 years in jail."

U.S. groups committed to peace and conflict resolution say the material support law inhibits their efforts around the globe.

Jeff Seul is with the Peace Appeal Foundation, a peace activist group launched in the late-1990s by several Nobel Peace Prize winners.

"We believe that democracy is about talk, and the idea that talk can work," said Jeff Seul. "We really don't approve of the violence that is used by parties on either side of the conflict.  And this case matters to us because we have feared prosecution from our activities."

The Obama administration is urging the Supreme Court to keep the material support law intact.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the nine justices on the high court this week that the law remains a vital weapon in the continuing struggle against international terrorism.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case the same week that Afghan national Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty to plotting a bomb attack on the New York City subway system.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the Zazi case proves the need for prosecutors to use all of the tools at their disposal.

"We are at war against a very dangerous, intelligent and adaptable enemy and we must use every weapon available to us in order to win that war," said Eric Holder.

Anthony Barkow is a former federal prosecutor who is now with the New York University School of Law.

Barkow told the Georgetown panel that there are enough legal safeguards in place to prevent aid groups from being wrongly prosecuted.  He said the material support law should be preserved as an important legal weapon in the war on terror.

"Those cases could be policed through other mechanisms and therefore avoid the court issuing an opinion that could strike down or significantly limit this really essential tool in the arsenal of national security prosecutions," said Anthony Barkow.

During oral arguments, several of the Supreme Court justices aggressively questioned lawyers for both sides in the case.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often casts the deciding vote on the sharply divided court, said it was a difficult case for him.  Kennedy is a frequent defender of the free speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The high court is expected to issue a ruling in the case sometime before the end of June.   

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs