Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project Decided

February 22, 2010

Whether the federal law criminalizing material support for terrorism is unconstitutionally vague because it is unclear whether it extends even to speech opposing terrorism so long as it is directed at designated terrorist organizations and, if so, whether the law violates the First Amendment as applied to such advocacy.

Federal law makes it a crime to provide a designated terrorist organization with material support — including service, training, personnel, and expert advice or assistance. Because these terms are not defined in the statute, there is a risk that they may extend even to human rights advocacy designed to reduce terrorist activity. In an amicus brief submitted on behalf of nine internationally prominent human rights organizations, the ACLU argues that this ambiguity at the core of the statute renders it unconstitutionally vague as applied to traditional human rights activity. To the extent that such activity is covered, the brief further argues that the statute violates the First Amendment by punishing constitutionally protected speech.

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