Charles W. "Rocky" Rhodes on Balancing Freedom of Speech and National Security in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project

Charles W. "Rocky" Rhodes on Balancing Freedom of Speech and National Security in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project

In this Emerging Issues commentary, Charles W. "Rocky" Rhodes, the Godwin Ronquillo PC Research Professor and Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law, discusses the decision of the US Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 130 S. Ct. 2705 (U.S. 2010). The Court upheld the constitutionality of a federal statute that criminalizes "knowingly provid[ing] material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization" designated by the Secretary of State. He writes:

Excerpt:

"The Humanitarian Law Project Court held that, under these principles, § 2339B(a)(1) was not vague as applied to the plaintiffs' desired actions. The plaintiffs did not allege that the material-support statute provided too much enforcement discretion to the government, so the Court only considered the fair notice question. In contrast to some earlier decisions that had invalidated entirely subjective standards that were untethered to a statutory definition or particular context, including statutes criminalizing 'annoying' conduct or 'indecent' conduct, Congress here, the Court noted, had intermittently incorporated definitions of prohibited actions such as 'training' and 'expert advice or assistance,' narrowing the statute's scope and adding clarity to its reach."

"After rejecting the vagueness challenge, the Court had to consider the more difficult issue in the case-the appropriate balance between freedom of speech and the governmental interests at stake. Chief Justice Roberts' opinion first explained that the issue was more nuanced than the arguments of either party acknowledged. Contrary to the plaintiffs' position, the material-support statute did not ban 'pure political speech,' because the plaintiffs could still engage in independent advocacy on behalf of the organizations, express their opinions regarding the organizations, or even join the organizations."

"The Court declared that its holding was narrow, only applying to the plaintiffs' specific proposals to train and teach foreign terrorist organizations on peacefully resolving disputes and acquiring relief through representative bodies. The Court even specified that it was not suggesting that Congress could apply a similar prohibition on independent advocacy on behalf of foreign terror organizations, or ban the material support of domestic terrorist groups."

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Charles W. "Rocky" Rhodes is the Godwin Ronquillo PC Research Professor and Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law, where he teaches Constitutional Law, First Amendment Law, Civil Procedure, State Constitutional Law, and Complex Litigation. He is the co-author of two LexisNexis textbooks on constitutional law, Cases and Materials on Constitutional Law and Skills & Values: The First Amendment, and the author of more than fifteen articles and book chapters on a wide variety of constitutional and procedural issues. He is a frequent media commentator, including television and radio appearances on CNN, NPR's Morning Edition, BBC Radio's World Business News, NPR's Day to Day, and Bloomberg Radio, along with interviews in newspapers and magazines across the United States, such as the Washington Post, USA Today, American Lawyer, Dallas Morning News, Washington Times, ABA Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and Houston Chronicle. He earned his undergraduate degree summa cum laude while on a National Merit Scholarship at Baylor University before enrolling at Baylor Law School, where he was Editor-in-Chief of the Baylor Law Review, the President's Award recipient as the outstanding third-year student, and valedictorian of his graduating law school class. Before becoming a professor, he served as a briefing and staff attorney at the Supreme Court of Texas, practiced appellate law at a national law firm, and earned his board certification in Civil Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Access Charles Rhodes Martindale-Hubbell profile at martindale.com.

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