I haven’t had much time this week to comment on this extremely troubling Supreme Court ruling, and I still don’t. Let me quickly refer readers however to a helpful NYTimes editorial summary from earlier this week, and to a round-up of some useful commentary.
The basic contours of the case, according to the Times:
The case arose after an American human rights group, the Humanitarian Law Project, challenged the law prohibiting “material support” to terror groups, which was defined in the 2001 Patriot Act to include “expert advice or assistance.” The law project wanted to provide advice to two terrorist groups on how to peacefully resolve their disputes and work with the United Nations. The two groups — the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party — have violent histories and their presence on the State Department’s official list of terrorist groups is not in dispute.
But though the law project was actually trying to reduce the violence of the two groups, the court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. on behalf of five other justices, said that did not matter and ruled the project’s efforts illegal. Even peaceful assistance to a terror group can further terrorism, the chief justice wrote, in part by lending them legitimacy and allowing them to pretend to be negotiating while plotting violence.
I tend to agree with Gonzalo Lira, if not about the US’ current status as a “facist police state,” then certainly about the fact that the real issues here are less about free speech and more about expanding the state’s ability to repress.
Let me also point out that legal/constitutional issues aside, this judgment is extraordinarily near-sighted from a human security perspective. It is hard to see how the protection of civilian life could be served by denying human rights and humanitarian law groups the right to disseminate their norms, tactics and principles of non-violent conflict resolution to groups (be they states or non-states) that have previously engaged or retain the capacity to engage in violence.