High Court asks to stop Arkansas law against boycotting Israel

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Free speech advocates on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that upheld an Arkansas law requiring contractors in the state to pledge not to boycott Israel.

Contractors who do not sign the commitment must reduce their fees by 20%. Republican lawmakers who drafted the 2017 law said it was not driven by a specific incident in the state.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Arkansas Times, a Little Rock-based alternative weekly.

The US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June that the law did not unconstitutionally infringe free speech rights. The St. Louis-based court’s ruling overturned a three-judge panel’s ruling last year that the law violated entrepreneurs’ right to free speech.

“America was founded on political boycotts, and boycotts are a powerful way to speak up and create change,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “This state legislative majority wanted the government to have the power to force people to give up their First Amendment rights or pay a fine, and this is a dangerous step back for our rights.”

In its plea for the Supreme Court to take up the case, the ACLU called the 8th Circuit Court’s decision a “drastic deviation” from Supreme Court precedent that a boycott of the NAACP from a hardware retailer in Port Gibson, Mississippi, was constitutionally protected. and assembly.

The High Court “has long upheld the principle that states cannot suppress politically motivated consumer boycotts,” the ACLU said. He said the 8th Circuit Court ruled that only speech and associations surrounding a boycott were protected, not a boycott itself.

The ACLU also claimed that the 8th Circuit’s ruling was inconsistent with rulings by other federal appeals courts, creating judicial uncertainty.

He also argued that the ruling “gives states a blank check to selectively penalize boycotts that express adverse messages, as Arkansas has done here, and thus conflicts with the neutrality requirement.” of the content of the First Amendment”.

The law followed similar restrictions enacted by other states in response to a movement promoting boycott, divestment and sanctions from Israeli institutions and businesses over the country’s treatment of Palestinians. Israeli officials say the campaign masks a deeper goal of delegitimizing and even destroying the country.

Similar measures in Arizona, Kansas and Texas that were blocked by the courts were later allowed to proceed after lawmakers reduced the requirement to only apply to larger contracts. Arkansas law applies to contracts worth $1,000 or more.

Citing its anti-boycott law, Arizona last year sold millions of dollars in Unilever bonds following the Ben & Jerry’s subsidiary’s decision to stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied territories.

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Wallace reported from Dallas.

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