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The Supreme Court To Evaluate a Portion of the Patriot Act

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on one portion of the Patriot Act. The case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project asks the Court to define that part of the Act making it illegal to provide "material support" to any organization the government has designated a terrorist organization. Those critical of the law say that currently, the government's definition of "material support" is so broad, even peace activists are open to prosecution for aiding terrorists. They argue this violates constitutional rights protecting freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The Christian Science Monitor reports this case concerns human rights and peace activists who were working with members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), both organizations on the government's list of terror organizations. The Humanitarian Project is challenging the law saying as peace workers, they should not be prosecuted for providing aide to any terrorist group.

The government argues the law does not require a showing the defendant had the intent to aide a terror group. All the prosecutors must prove is that the defendant(s) knew that the recipient of his or her assistance engaged in terrorism or had been designated by the government as a terrorist organization.

According to the Monitor, opponents of the law say this is too wide of a net. In his brief supporting the Humanitarian Law Project, Georgetown Law Professor David Cole wrote, "On the government's reading, the statute makes speech a crime, even if the speaker succeeds in reducing resort to violence by encouraging peaceful resolution of conflict." 

On behalf of the government, Solicitor General Elena Kagan wrote that the material support statute was "one of this nation's most valuable and vital tools in the fight against international terrorism."

The Monitor reports that since 2001, an estimated 150 individuals have been charged with providing material support to a designated terror group. Roughly half of them have been convicted. 

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