It is a federal crime to “knowingly provid[e] material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” 18 U. S. C. §2339B(a)(1). The authority to designate an entity a “foreign terrorist organization” rests with the Secretary of State, and is subject to judicial review. Among the entities the Secretary of State has designated “foreign terrorist organization[s]” are the Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan (PKK) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which aim to establish independent states for, respectively, Kurds in Turkey and Tamils in Sri Lanka. Although both groups engage in political and humanitarian activities, each has also committed numerous terrorist attacks, some of which have harmed American citizens. Claiming they wish to support those groups’ lawful, nonviolent activities, two U. S. citizens and six domestic organizations (hereinafter plaintiffs) initiated this constitutional challenge to the material-support statute. Plaintiffs challenge §2339B’s prohibition on providing four types of material support—“training,” “expert advice or assistance,” “service,” and “personnel”—asserting violations of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause on the ground that the statutory terms are impermissibly vague, and violations of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.

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In 1990, Congress amended the statute governing the National Endowment for the Arts to require that the NEA chairperson consider "general standards of respect and decency for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public" when awarding art grants. Four artists—Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller, known collectively as the "NEA 4"—sued in federal court, claiming the so-called "decency clause" violated the First Amendment and forced artists to engage in self-censorship in order to obtain NEA funding. The trial judge ruled in favor of the "NEA 4," ruling that the decency clause was both unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed for "essentially the same reasons as the district court." The 9th Circuit determined the decency clause was void for vagueness and for violating the First Amendment’s general prohibition against content- and viewpoint-based discrimination. A bedrock principle of the First Amendment is that government may not prohibit speech just because it finds the speech offensive or disagreeable. Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989). Sexual expression which is indecent but not obscene is also protected by the First Amendment. Sable Communications of Cal., Inc. v. Sable, 492 U.S. 115 (1989). The First Amendment protects against viewpoint discrimination above other forms of content discrimination. Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819 (1995). When the government promotes a particular program and defines the limit of a program, it can fund speech that promotes its goals, even to the detriment of other goals. Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991). "There is a basic difference between direct state interference with a protected activity and state encouragement of an alternative activity consonant with legislative policy." Maher v. Roe, 432 U.S. 464 (1977).

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