Wednesday, November 25, 2020

United States court strikes down anti-boycott law

By J.J. Rhies - April 29, 2019
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [BDS]


A Texas federal court has ruled that a state law targeting supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which decries Israeli occupation, is unconstitutional.


U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin ruled against the law, which requires contractors to demonstrate that they do not boycott Israel or companies that do business with it.


Similar state laws have been deemed unconstitutional by federal judges in Arizona and Kansas.


Boycotts constitute free speech, which is protected under the First Amendment, Judge Pitman said in his 56-page opinion filed on Thursday, April 25.


The state law “threatens 'to suppress unpopular ideas’ and manipulate the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion,” he opined.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a leading legal rights organisation in the U.S., in Texas filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of four plaintiffs last December. The plaintiffs, the suit argued, either lost “contracting opportunities” because they would not affirm in writing that they did not support boycotts of Israel, or they did so affirm, “at the expense” of their rights to free speech.


“We can’t stay silent when states are violating the First Amendment in this way,” Vera Eidelman, an ACLU attorney, said at the time.


As of April 10, 2019, 27 U.S. states have enacted anti-BDS legislation and an additional 14 have introduced similar bills, according to Palestine Legal, a U.S.-based legal organisation that protects the rights of Americans to support Palestine.


Last February, the U.S. Senate passed the Combating BDS Act of 2019, which would prevent state and local governments from doing business with entities that support BDS. In order for the bill to become law, it must be approved by vote in the House of Representatives, which has not happened.


The bill prompted zealous support and sharp criticism. Critics claim it violates citizens’ First Amendment right to free speech, and supporters have said it is necessary for protecting Israel, a close ally of the U.S.


Senator Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, said the bill “is designed to see that the BDS activity is tamped down and that it is not appropriate to use against our friend, Israel.”


Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said the bill contradicted a fundamental principle of the U.S.


“There is likely nothing more American than to protest, to dissent and to boycott ... The sad thing today is that we will be debating whether or not to place limitations on the First Amendment right to boycott, and we will do it because the vast majority of this body disagrees with the concept of what the people are boycotting over,” he said.

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