Federal Judge Brian Miller heard arguments today from the Arkansas Times and the ACLU for an injunction against the Arkansas law that requires state contractors to sign a pledge not to engage in a boycott against Israel. He said he wanted to do more research before ruling.
The hearing consisted of legal arguments by the ACLU lawyers and the state attorney general that repeated arguments made in filings in the case. The Times contends it is unconstitutional to be compelled to sign a pledge to continue to do advertising business — specifically with a campus of the University of Arkansas, which has invoked the law. The state contends this is not a First Amendment violation.
No witnesses testified. The state had tried to have the motion dismissed for alleged lack of standing (we haven’t spoken on the boycott), but Miller heard arguments anyway. The state continued to attack the newspaper’s standing, according to publisher Alan Leveritt, who attended the hearing.
Miller remarked that at first blush he thought the case was simple — a speech restriction on news media. But he said the state’s arguments had made it appear more complicated and said he wanted to do further legal research.
The state law is a copy of one passed by pro-Israel groups in other states to discourage protests of Israel policy toward Palestine. It’s not a subject the Times has editorialized about. But the newspaper has objected to having conditions set on content by the state legislature in the form of a pledge or a price reduction should we not sign the pledge. (I was thinking this morning, half in jest, that perhaps I should advocate boycotts of Israel as a protest against Arkansas legislators who don’t respect the First Amendment. The practical fact is that the state already discriminates against speech its controlling leaders find unpopular in many ways, without a need for statute.)
Sen. Bart Hester, one of the sponsors of the law, has said amendments to the law were likely in the coming session because of court cases that have blocked the law in other states.