A conviction fails to comport with due process if the statute under which it is obtained fails to provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what is prohibited, or is so standardless that it authorizes or encourages seriously discriminatory enforcement. A court considers whether a statute is vague as applied to the particular facts at issue, for a plaintiff who engages in some conduct that is clearly proscribed cannot complain of the vagueness of the law as applied to the conduct of others.
The Secretary of State designated as “foreign terrorist organizations” the Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan (PKK) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), both aimed to establish independent states for the Kurds in Turkey and Tamils in Sri Lanka, respectively. Although both groups engage in political and humanitarian activities, each also committed numerous terrorist attacks, some of which harmed American citizens. Claiming they wish to support those groups' lawful, nonviolent activities, two U. S. citizens and six domestic organizations (hereinafter plaintiffs) initiated a constitutional challenge to the material-support statute. According to the plaintiffs, the material-support statute violated the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause on the ground that the statutory terms are impermissibly vague. Furthermore, they posited that the aforementioned statute violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. The plaintiffs alleged that the statute was invalid to the extent that it prohibits them from engaging in certain specified activities, including training PKK members to use international law to resolve disputes peacefully, teaching PKK members to petition the United Nations and other representative bodies for relief, and engaging in political advocacy on behalf of Kurds living in Turkey and Tamils living in Sri Lanka.
Was the material-support statute constitutional?
The Court held that the material-support statute, § 2339B, was constitutional as applied to the particular forms of support that plaintiffs seek to provide to foreign terrorist organizations. The Court held that § 2339B, when applied to speech, did not require proof of intent to further a terrorist organization's illegal activities. Section 2339B was not impermissibly vague as applied to plaintiffs' proposed activities, most of which fell within the scope of the statutory terms "training" and "expert advice or assistance." Nor did § 2339B violate the First Amendment as applied. According to the Court, the statute did not prohibit independent advocacy, and Congress and the Executive Branch had determined that providing even seemingly benign support to a foreign terrorist organization bolstered terrorist activities.