McCarthy Era Blacklist Victims, Peace Groups, Academics, and Media File Amicus Briefs in CCR Case

November 24, 2009, 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 yesterday.

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 activity.

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 us.”   

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 works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

January 19, 2010