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.   


    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

    You May Like

    Greenpeace Leak: US-EU Trade Deal Would Favor Corporations

    Activist group leaks classified documents to 'shine a light' on talks that could create the world's largest bilateral trade and investment pact

    Video Ethiopia's Drought Takes Toll on Children

    East African country’s crops failed in 2015, creating food shortages for 10 million – including 6 million children whose development may be compromised

    What Your First Name Reveals About Who You Vote For

    People named Chad are more likely to be Republicans and Jonathans are usually Democrats

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora