ACLU Says Unconstitutional Law Criminalizes "Guilt By Association"
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NEW YORK - A federal court will hear arguments today in a case that tests a material support statute that the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union call unconstitutional. Zeinab Taleb-Jedi, an American citizen, faces up to 15 years in prison for her alleged support of a group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. In November 2007, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that the law criminalizing material support to alleged terrorist organizations is unconstitutional because it punishes political association with blacklisted organizations without requiring the government to show a person intends to engage in or support any criminal activity.
"In the United States we do not criminalize guilt by association, but that’s exactly what the material support statute permits," said Hina Shamsi, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "Under the statute, the government doesn’t have to show a person intends to support any unlawful aim of a blacklisted organization, and can instead charge the person based on the conduct of others in the group. The breadth of the statute violates the First Amendment right to freedom of association and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process."
Taleb-Jedi is charged with providing material support in the form of personnel - herself - to the Mojahedin el-Khalq (MEK), a group that opposes the current regime in Iran. According to her lawyers, the MEK's goal is the transition to a secular government in Iran, it engages in a wide range of political advocacy work in furtherance of that goal, and the United States has reportedly cooperated with the MEK.
The material support statute unconstitutionally prohibits Taleb-Jedi and others in her position from challenging the government’s designation of an organization as a terrorist group. The State Department’s designation of the MEK as a terrorist organization was controversial; 224 members of Congress opposed it.
"Association with groups that engage in lawful political advocacy is protected by the First Amendment. Supreme Court decisions make clear that when the government’s blacklisting of a group is the reason a person’s otherwise lawful conduct becomes criminal, the person must be able to challenge the blacklisting," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "The government cannot criminalize First Amendment-protected activity without a hearing."
Judge Brian M. Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York will hear arguments in the case today at 11:00 a.m.
The ACLU’s friend-of-the-court brief is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/32764lgl20071108.html
Attorneys who submitted the brief are Shamsi, Goodman, and Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU National Security Project and Arthur N. Eisenberg of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU has previously filed friend-of-the-court briefs in other cases concerning the constitutionality and sweep of the material support law. Most recently, the ACLU filed a brief on behalf of humanitarian organizations including Oxfam, Operation USA and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee that are concerned the material support law, as interpreted by the government, inhibits their ability to provide humanitarian aid to desperate civilian populations living in conflict zones.
That brief is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/25628lgl20060522.html