Can Research and Reporting be Considered Criminal?

On Feb. 23, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, a first Amendment challenge to a Patriot Act section that bars support -- including speech -- that might be interpreted as unintentionally aiding organizations the U.S. deems terrorist.

February 23, 2010

On Feb. 23, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, a first Amendment challenge to a Patriot Act section that bars support -- including speech --  that might be interpreted as unintentionally aiding organizations the U.S. deems terrorist.

The Brennan Center’s amicus brief, filed on behalf of academics and a media organization, raises questions about the consequences of criminalizing well-intentioned communications with or about terrorist groups. Based on the notion that this type of communication is vital to public inquiry, education, and knowledge, and that academics and journalists must be able to communicate with terrorist groups in order to research and report on the problem of terrorism, the brief suggests the statute could be interpreted in ways that hobble legitimate, professional activities that enhance public knowledge.

During oral arguments, the Justices evinced skepticism about the government's interpretation of the material support laws and expressed concern about free speech implications.

NPR and the New York Times give overviews of the case. Read the entire transcript of Tuesday’s arguments.