Constitution Project Dismayed by Supreme Court’s Rejection of Constitutional Challenge to Provisions of Material Support Laws

Ruling in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project Upholds Broad Application of Material Support Laws to Prohibit Even Pure Speech That Furthers Lawful Ends

CONTACT: Dallas Jamison, (720) 333-1494 or

WASHINGTON – Today, the Supreme Court, in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, upheld the extremely broad application of federal laws that prohibit material support for designated terrorist groups. The lawsuit challenged the application of the “material support” laws to organizations and individuals who seek to provide peacebuilding and human rights training to groups designated as terrorist organizations. Writing for a total of six justices, Chief Justice Roberts today rejected this challenge, finding that the application of the material support statutes to punish these groups’ pure speech that seeks to further lawful, non-violent ends does not run afoul of the Constitution. Although the Court agreed that the statute’s regulation of speech must be subject to a demanding level of scrutiny, the Court found that these sweeping restrictions were justified by the Government’s interests in combating terrorism.

“The Constitution Project is thoroughly dismayed by today’s Supreme Court’s decision, which will allow for the prosecution of individuals for constitutionally protected, peaceful, speech and association activities,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, Constitution Project Senior Counsel. “As much as our government must have the tools needed to punish those who work to enable acts of terrorism, it is essential that these laws respect constitutional freedoms. We regret that the Court refused to rein in the overbroad sweep of the material support statutes to ensure that terrorist activities are prohibited but that free speech and association are still safeguarded by the First Amendment. Training groups to pursue peaceful resolution of their disputes should be encouraged, not made criminal.”

Last November, the Constitution Project, together with The Rutherford Institute, filed an amicus brief in the case, urging the Supreme Court to strike down the provisions of the material support laws that conflict with First Amendment protections for free speech and freedom of association. Also in November, the Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee released Reforming the Material Support Laws: Constitutional Concerns Presented by Prohibitions on Material Support to “Terrorist Organizations,” which proposed eight reforms to remedy serious First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment concerns created by existing material support laws.

Click here to view the Constitution Project’s amicus brief in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

Click here to view Reforming the Material Support Laws: Constitutional Concerns Presented by Prohibitions on Material Support to “Terrorist Organizations.”

Senior Counsel Sharon Bradford Franklin speaks with WBAI, Pacifica Radio 99.5FM in New York about the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project decision. Listen to her interview just before the 19 minute mark of their June 22 morning program.

The Constitution Project seeks consensus solutions to difficult legal and constitutional issues. It does this through constructive dialogue across ideological and partisan lines, and through scholarship, activism, and public education efforts.

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