Court Rules “Material Support” Provision of Patriot Act Unconstitutional

December 11, 2007 12:00 am

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Law Could Still Keep Humanitarian Assistance From Reaching Those in Need, ACLU Says

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NEW YORK – In yet another ruling striking down a provision of the Patriot Act as unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Monday that some portions of the act that criminalize support of blacklisted foreign organizations are unconstitutionally vague. Yesterday’s ruling in the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upholds a 2005 decision by U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins.

The ACLU filed an amicus brief in 2006 on behalf of humanitarian organizations including Oxfam, Operation USA, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, all of which are concerned that the law interferes with their ability to provide humanitarian aid to desperately needy civilian populations. In the brief, the ACLU argued that sweeping provisions of the Patriot Act barring “expert advice or assistance” or “training” to groups considered terrorist organizations by the State Department prevented humanitarian groups from providing aid in war-torn areas, because in those areas it is sometimes impossible to provide aid without working with or through organizations that engage in both lawful and unlawful activity.

The ACLU charged that the law pertaining to providing “material support” to groups would allow a humanitarian organization to be prosecuted for providing support after a natural disaster, even if the organization’s goals were entirely laudable and even if the donations were used only for legitimate humanitarian purposes.

The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project:

“As the Court of Appeals recognized, the ‘material support’ law is unconstitutionally vague because it fails to make clear what conduct is prohibited. Some of the law’s terms are so sweeping that they encompass activity that is protected by the First Amendment- the government has even stated that an advocacy group could violate the statute by filing a legal brief in support of a blacklisted organization. This said, it is disappointing that the court upheld the remainder of the ‘material support’ statute. In its current form, the statute allows a person to be criminally prosecuted for donations that may be entirely innocent, because the statute fails to require the government to show that the donor actually intended to support illegal activity. We continue to believe that, in its current form, the entire law is unconstitutional.”

The ACLU’s amicus brief is available online at:

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