For Immediate Release
McCarthy Era Blacklist Victims, Peace Groups, Academics, and Media File Amicus Briefs in CCR Case
Groups Join Supreme Court Challenge to Material Support Laws
NEW YORK - A group of former McCarthy era blacklist victims filed a friend-of-court
brief in a Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Supreme Court case
yesterday, arguing that the Court should not allow the government to
repeat the mistakes of the McCarthy era in the name of cutting off
material support to organizations the State Department has labeled
“terrorist.” The group, which included individuals and family members
of individuals subjected to the Hollywood blacklists, argued that the
“material support” statute parallels the McCarthy era laws because it
imposes criminal penalties on speech and association – without
requiring any proof that the speech or association is tied to violent
or criminal activity. Amicus briefs from peace and human rights groups
like the Carter Center and Human Rights Watch, academics and the media,
and non-partisan and conservative groups were also filed with the Court
The McCarthy era victims were subjected to a range of hardships, from
being fired for their purported "disloyalty," to incarceration for
refusing to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.
The brief was filed by the law firm of Arnold & Porter, which
represented many victims of the loyalty boards and HUAC during the
McCarthy era, and Steve Rohde, formerly President of the Board of the
ACLU of Southern California.
Said Irwin Corey, a comedian, performer and
satirist blacklisted during the 1950’s for his left-wing political
opinions, "We lived and suffered through a time when repression for
one's political ideas was all too widely accepted and practiced. We
file this brief in hopes that Americans do not repeat that history."
The brief was filed in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project,
in which the Center for Constitutional Rights represents a human rights
group and other plaintiffs in a challenge to the constitutionality of
the “material support” statute. They argue that the law is
unconstitutional to the extent that it criminalizes pure speech and
association simply because it is connected to a group the Secretary of
State has placed on an official blacklist. Lower courts have held
several parts of the material support law unconstitutional –
including, in part, a ban on “expert advice or assistance” added by the
Patriot Act. But the Obama administration has taken the case to the
Supreme Court, defending the government's prerogative to make it a
crime to engage in pure speech advocating peaceable, nonviolent
Another amicus brief was submitted on behalf of major peace and human
rights groups – including the Carter Center , the International Crisis
Group, and Human Rights Watch. They argue that in order to do their
work, they must often speak to, with, and on behalf of foreign
organizations labeled “terrorist,” and that the law therefore impedes
efforts to further peace and human rights around the world. That brief
was written by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Still another brief, written by the Brennan Center , represents
academics and the media, who also argue that the law imperils their
work by criminalizing virtually all contact with groups the government
has labeled “terrorist,” even where that contact does not support
terrorism in any way.
A fourth brief was filed by the Constitution Project, a bipartisan
nonprofit, and the Rutherford Institute, a conservative organization.
They argue that it is critical, in the war on terror, to protect
dissent, and in particular to protect pure speech and association. The
brief was written by the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP.
Said CCR Cooperating Attorney David Cole, “The
range of amici filed in support of our case illustrates the breadth of
the material support law we are challenging. The law is so broad that
it imperils the work of peace groups like the Carter Center and the
International Crisis Group, human rights organizations like Human
Rights Watch, academic researchers, and the media. And its reliance on
guilt by association and the criminalization of pure speech harkens
back to McCarthy era practices that we should have long put behind
For more information on the case, including these amicus briefs and a detailed explanation of material support, visit the Humanitarian Law Project Overview page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.