As promised several months ago, the ACLU has filed its petition seeking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the Arkansas Times’ challenge of the state law that punishes people who do business with the state if they refuse to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel.
The Times sued the University of Arkansas over the law because it had to accept a 20 percent discount in advertising rates to do business with the UA’s Pulaski Tech campus. Challenges of similar laws in other states have been successful and forced revisions to the laws. But the Times lost its case before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found no 1st Amendment violation in a law that compelled speech or allowed punishment by the government for those who refused. The Times hadn’t participated in or written about the Israel boycott law, but objected on principle.
The Guardian, in reporting on the ACLU appeal, which was due today, noted that the filing says the decision in the Times’ case contradicts 40 years of law that says boycotts are protected speech.
The ACLU’s chief litigator in the case, Brian Hauss, said that if the law is allowed to stand it would not only intrude on the right to protest in support of the Palestinians but also legitimise parallel legislation in some states against certain kinds of boycotts over the climate crisis or in support of gun control.
“This tactic of state governments forcing contractors to disavow participation in particular boycotts is expanding beyond the Israel-Palestine issue now to address boycotts of firearms manufacturers or boycotts of the fossil fuel industry,” said Hauss.
“If the supreme court doesn’t weigh in, or if it says that states can do this, every state is going to have a raft of anti boycott-laws that are basically designed to protect whatever causes or interests are favored by the legislators in that state. Texas has already passed laws requiring contractors to disavow those kinds of boycotts and other states are implementing similar laws.”
Such laws limiting speech are already running in other state legislatures. The Supreme Court accepts few cases, but because of different outcomes and the broad impact of the law, this one might prove an exception.