NEW YORK - November 28 - In a ruling issued yesterday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) succeeded in having two key provisions of a Bush administration anti-terrorism initiative ruled unconstitutional. Los Angeles U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins ruled in Humanitarian Law Project v. Department of Treasury that the law, an Executive Order issued shortly after 9/11 and used to blacklist hundreds of individuals and organizations as "specially designated global terrorists" and freeze their assets, is unconstitutionally vague and imposes guilt by association. The Order gives the President unfettered discretion to proscribe "specially designated global terrorists" without any criteria whatsoever. And the Order further empowers the Secretary of Treasury to designate individuals and groups for merely being "otherwise associated" with another listed individual or entity.
The district court held that the President's authority to designate groups or individuals as "specially designated global terrorists" is unconstitutionally vague because it gives him "unfettered discretion," and because individuals may be "subject to designation under the President's authority for any reason, including for .... associating with anyone listed, .... or for no reason." (Dec. at 30-31). The court further found that the Executive Order's delegation of authority to the Secretary of the Treasury to designate others solely for being "otherwise associated with" someone on the list was unconstitutional because it "contains no definable criteria for designating individuals and groups as SDGTs," and because it impermissibly "imposes penalties for mere association." (Dec. at 38-39).
CCR Board Member David Cole, lead counsel in the case, said, "This law gave the president unfettered authority to create blacklists, an authority President Bush then used to empower the Secretary of the Treasury to impose guilt by association. The court's decision confirms that even in fighting terror, unchecked executive authority and trampling on fundamental freedoms is not a permissible option."
Judge Collins, the first judge to declare any section of the Patriot Act unconstitutional, had previously declared several parts of the material support statute (28 USC 2339) unconstitutional in rulings in 1998 and 2004. In December 2005, Congress revised that statute in response to her rulings, and the case was sent back to District Court. In July 2005, she ruled that Congress did not adequately clarify the bans on "training" and "expert advice." She also ruled unconstitutional a new ban, added by the 2004 Act, on providing "services" to designated groups. Yesterday's decision addressed an even broader law directed at support of terrorist organizations, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which imposes penalties for pure association, without more.
CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren said, "The system of checks and balances enshrined in our constitution has once again served to uphold democracy and the freedom of association against an Executive that would rather do away with the rule of law our country is founded on."
CCR staff attorney Shane Kadidal acts as co-counsel in this case, co-operating with Carol Sobel and Paul Hoffman. Visuvanathan Rudrukumaran as another attorney on the case.
CCR has filed multiple cases on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project, a human rights organization that seeks to provide human rights advocacy training to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the main Kurdish political party in Turkey, and several groups of Tamil-who seek to support the lawful activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, especially areas affected by the 2004 tsunami. The District Court previously found that both the PKK and the LTTE engage in a wide variety of lawful, nonviolent activities, including providing relief to Tsunami victims and other important humanitarian relief efforts.