On Nov. 16, 2009, opening briefs were filed by several parties in the Supreme Court case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (HLP).  In the first ever challenge to a provision of the Patriot Act at the Supreme Court, the case contests the constitutionality of the law that makes it criminal to provide certain “material support,” including peaceful mediation, for groups designated as a terrorist by the U.S. government.  Filing a brief on behalf of HLP, a human rights group, and other plaintiffs, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) claims the law making speech advocating nonviolent activity a crime violates the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

In CCR’s press release, David Cole, an attorney representing HLP, spoke about the statute that makes peaceful conflict resolution a crime. “This statute is so sweeping that it treats human rights advocates as criminal terrorists, and threatens them with 15 years in prison for advocating nonviolent means to resolve disputes. In our view, the First Amendment does not permit the government to make advocating human rights or other lawful, peaceable activity a crime simply because it is done for the benefit of, or in conjunction with, a group the Secretary of State has blacklisted.”

The ACLU filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of several organizations focused on conflict analysis, and human rights groups, including the Carter Center, Grassroots International and Human Rights Watch. The introduction of the brief states, “Plaintiffs…seek to engage in pure political speech promoting lawful, nonviolent activity. Specifically, they would like to resume what they were doing before the statutory prohibitions at issue here were triggered: teaching and advocating the use of international law and other nonviolent means to reduce conflict, advance human rights, and promote peace.”

Additional friend of the court briefs:

More detailed summaries and analysis of the briefs will be posted on the Charity and Security Network website.