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SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Case Challenging Provisions of USA PATRIOT Act

[buzz]On September 30, 2009, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases challenging provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, that make it a crime to provide “material support or resources” to designated terrorist groups. The question presented to the Court is: (1) Whether 18 U.S.C. 2339B(a)(1), which prohibits the knowing provision of “any *** service, *** training, [or] expert advice or assistance,” to a designated foreign terrorist organization, is constitutionally vague; (2) whether the criminal prohibitions in 18 U.S.C. 2339(a)(1) on the provision of “expert advice or assistance” “derived from scientific [or] technical . . . knowledge” and “personel” are unconstitutional with respect to speech that furthers only lawful, nonviolent activities or proscrbed organizations.

The Obama Administration asked the SCOTUS to review the law after key provisions were struck down by 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in December, 2007. In a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel, the 9th Circuit affirmed the district court decision, holding that the terms “service,” “training,” or “other specialized knowledge” are unconstitutionally vague. The court also stated that the language banning “material support or resources” could be used to prosecute individuals who train designated groups on peaceful conflict resolution, or who lobby the UN for disaster relief.

The law was originally challenged by the Humanitarian Law Project, representing several groups who advocate for, and coordinate with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, both of which have been designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department. These groups contend that the activities are lawful, nonviolent and purely political speech that involves, among other things, “teaching and advocating the use of international law and other nonviolent means to reduce conflict , advance human rights, and promote peace.” The United States argues that the circuit court ruling frustrates “a vital part of the nation’s effort to fight international terrorism.”


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