Monday’s Supreme Court case on supporting terrorism saw retiring Justice Stevens side with the conservatives, while Justice Sotomayor went the opposite way. This suggests that Elena Kagan could move the Court to the left on national security.
On June 21, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (HLP). In this case, the Supreme Court considered whether a federal law that forbids providing “material support” to terrorist organizations is unconstitutional. By a 6-3 vote, the Court held that it is not.
The federal law referred to as the “material support statute” makes it a crime to provide any sort of valuable aid or support, such as collaborating with, any organization that the U.S. secretary of state designates as a terrorist organization. HLP likes to train and advise groups on international law and how to petition organizations such as the United Nations to receive monetary aid and other relief for their organizations. Two of the organizations HLP would like to instruct and advise have been designated terrorist organizations.
HLP managed to make three challenges to the material support statute that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The first is whether the law is “void for vagueness,” and the others are whether it violates the First Amendment rights of free speech or free association.
The Court unanimously held that this law is not void for vagueness (a doctrine I explained when I first covered the February 24arguments in this case for Townhall), because it is clear that the words of this statute specifically ban “training” and “expert advice or assistance.” Although other parts of it might be vague to other plaintiffs, there’s no question that it includes what HLP wants to do here.
The next question is the First Amendment challenge, whether it violates HLP’s free speech right to teach and advise anyone, including designated terrorist groups, in how international law works and how those groups could obtain international relief.
The Court majority held that prohibiting HLP from having training sessions with these terrorist groups does not violate the First Amendment, although the Court (thankfully) rejected the scope of power to regulate speech claimed by the Obama administration because it was “extreme.”
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