ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Hear Case to Affirm Our First Amendment Right to Boycott

October 20, 2022 2:15 pm

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arkansas filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court today urging the court to review a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit holding that the First Amendment does not fully protect the right to boycott. The petition comes in Arkansas Times LP v Waldrip, a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and ACLU of Arkansas challenging an Arkansas state law that requires government contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel or reduce their fees by 20 percent.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Arkansas Times LP, which was penalized by the government after it refused to certify that it is not boycotting Israel or “Israel-controlled territories”. The groups argue the law is an unconstitutional tax on free speech and infringes our First Amendment right to boycott. Although a panel of the Eighth Circuit previously held that the law violates the First Amendment, the full appeals court granted the state’s motion to reconsider the case and ultimately upheld the law. The ACLU is urging the Supreme Court to review the Eighth Circuit’s decision, which concluded that politically-motivated consumer boycotts are not protected by the First Amendment. The court found “the purchasing decisions at the heart of a boycott,” are not protected by the Constitution, even when, as in this case, the government selectively targets specific boycotts for special penalties.

The following are comments from:

Brian Hauss, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project: “The Eighth Circuit’s decision in this case badly misreads binding precedent and withdraws First Amendment protection for freedoms that have been proudly exercised since the Boston Tea Party. Worse yet, the decision upholds the government’s power to selectively suppress boycotts that express messages with which the government disagrees. The Supreme Court should take up this case in order to reaffirm that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in politically-motivated consumer boycotts.”

Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas: “The right to free speech includes the right to participate in political boycotts. America was founded on political boycotts, and boycotts are a powerful way to speak and create change. This state legislative majority wanted the government to have power to force people to relinquish their First Amendment rights or pay a penalty, and that is a dangerous step backward for our rights.”

Arkansas Times LP v Waldrip is a part of the ACLU’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket

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