Rights Groups Urge Court to Overturn Decision on Arkansas Anti-Boycott Law

Screenshot from  VICE News   documentary

Screenshot from VICE News documentary

April 16, 2019 – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, and the Law Office of Matthew Strugar filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a lawsuit seeking to strike down an Arkansas law that requires government contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel. The lawsuit and the amicus brief in support of it argue that the law violates the First Amendment. The filing situates the Arkansas law as part of a broader effort to suppress speech in support of Palestinian human rights.

“Arkansas can’t suppress boycotts for Palestinian rights just because the government disagrees with the message that Palestinians deserve freedom and equality,” said Palestine Legal Senior Staff Attorney Radhika Sainath. “The Court of Appeals has an opportunity to fix this and ensure that there is no First Amendment exception when it comes to Palestine.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of The Arkansas Times, which lost substantial ad revenue after its publisher refused to sign the no-boycott pledge on the principle that contractors should not be compelled to speak against boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) for Palestinian rights, even though the newspaper itself takes no position on BDS.

A U.S. district court judge dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit in January, deviating from two other courts that enjoined similar laws in Arizona and Kansas because boycotts for Palestinian rights are protected by the First Amendment, just as the Supreme Court recognized in the landmark NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware with regard to peaceful civil rights boycotts of white businesses in Mississippi. In its appeal, the ACLU argued that the district court’s decision, if allowed to stand, would set a dangerous precedent by allowing state legislatures to punish disfavored viewpoints.

“Anti-BDS laws are just another desperate attempt to suppress demands for equality for Palestinians,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood. “They not only violate the Constitution, they are also on the wrong side of history.”   

The amicus brief provides context for the court, making clear that Arkansas’ anti-boycott law and similar measures in 26 other states are part of a broader nationwide effort by Israel advocacy groups to suppress speech in support of Palestinian rights. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights have documented censorship efforts on college campuses, against public libraries, and at other institutions. Advocates for Palestinian human rights have lost jobs and incomes and faced harassment for their advocacy. The clear intent of the legislation and other censorship efforts is to silence viewpoints in support of Palestinian rights.

Read the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal’s amicus brief filed today here.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, The Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.

Palestine Legal protects the civil and constitutional rights of people in the U.S. who speak out for Palestinian freedom.

The Law Office of Matthew Strugar is a First Amendment and protesters’ rights law firm based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at matthewstrugar.com.

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