3rd Lead (Adds details and pdf file of Court Ruling)

U.S Court declares Patriot Act provision Unconstitutional

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 27 January 2004, 11:53 GMT]
In a landmark decision declaring Patriot Act's addition of "expert advice and assistance" to the definition of material support is unconstitutionally vague, Judge Audrey Collins in Los Angeles enjoined the U.S.Government from enforcing the USA PATRIOT Act's prohibition on providing 'expert advice or assistance' to foreign terrorist organizations against the plaintiffs Ralph Fertig, Dr. Jeyalingam, the Humanitarian Law Project, the Ilankai Thamil Sangam and its members, and the Tamil Welfare and Human Rights Committee and its members.

PDF Icon District Court California
HLP II et al., Vs John Ashcroft et al.,
Court Ruling on Patriot Act


"It is the first time that a court has struck down a portion of the controversial law approved by Congress six weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks," Washington Post said.

The court, however, declined to grant a nationwide injunction.

Nancy Chang, David Cole
"Judge Collins said the section of the USA Patriot Act is so broad that it "could be construed to include unequivocally pure speech and advocacy protected by the First Amendment," and that it "places no limitations on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited," Washington Post said.

Professor David Cole who argued the case said the decision "calls into question the government's reliance on overbroad laws imposing guilt by association in the war on terrorism."

"Our clients sought only to support lawful and nonviolent activity, yet the Patriot Act provision draws no distinction whatsoever between expert advice in human rights, designed to deter violence, and expert advice on how to build a bomb," Cole is quoted as saying in the Washington Post.

"The critical thing here is that this is the first demonstration that courts will not allow Congress in the name of fighting terrorism to ignore our constitutional rights," New York times reported quoting Nancy Chang, a senior lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York-based organization that brought the lawsuit against the Justice Department on behalf of the humanitarian groups. "By using a broad and vague definition of terrorism, that has a chilling effect on free speech."

Mark Carallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the provision of the Patriot Act "made clear that Americans are threatened as much by the person who teaches a terrorist build a bomb as by the one who pushes the button. The provision was an elaboration on an earlier law, enacted in 1996, that bans giving material support to terrorists. The USA Patriot Act's addition of words barring 'expert advice or assistance' was only a 'modest, incremental' change to the earlier law," the Washington post reported.

Professor David Cole of Georgetown University and Nancy Chang, Senior attorney at Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, lead the legal challenge. Tamil plaintiffs wished to lend their expertise in the fields of law, medicine, information technology, economics, and the cultural arts to support the humanitarian and political activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

CCR's Carol Sobel and Paul Hoffman are other attorneys representing the plaintiffs in this case labelled Humanitarian Law Project II et.al v. Ashcroft. et.al.

The Patriot Act made it a crime to provide material support to any organization designated by the Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization, including support directed solely to the organization's lawful and peaceful ends. Section 805(a)(2)(B) of the USA Patriot Act amended the definition of material support to include "expert advice and assistance."

Ninth Circuit's December 3, 2003 ruling in HLP I, which affirms Judge Collins' earlier ruling that the terms "training" and "personnel" in the 1996 definition of material support are unconstitutionally vague. The Ninth Circuit also held that an individual can be found guilty of the crime of material support only if he actually knows that he is giving material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization or a group involved in criminal activity. Both sides have requested the Ninth Circuit for rehearing en banc


Related Articles:
24.12.00   Petition against Antiterrorism Law ruling filed in US Suprem..
09.06.98   US Court rules on First Amendment case
20.03.98   US Antiterrorism Law challenged in courts


External Links:
Cornell University: US Constitution - Bill of Rights
US: Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
General: First Amendment cases
General: Analysis, Commentary on First Amendment
CCR-NY: Civil rights cases filed by Center for Constitutional Rights
EPIC: USA Patriot Act

 

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