Rights Groups Urge Federal Appeals Court to Strike Down Arizona’s Israel Loyalty Oath

January 24, 2019, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of an ACLU lawsuit seeking to strike down an Arizona law prohibiting state contractors from boycotting Israel. The lawsuit, and the amicus brief in support of it, argues that the law violates the First Amendment. The filing situates Arizona’s law as part of a broader effort to suppress speech in support of Palestinian human rights.

“Political boycotts—peacefully and collectively advocating for change by withdrawing support from unjust systems—have helped dismantle inequality and oppression throughout history, from civil rights boycotts in the U.S. to boycotts against South African apartheid,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood. “Boycotts against Israel are no exception—which is exactly why they are under widespread attack by those who are trying to silence growing demands for Palestinian freedom.”

The lawsuit challenges an Arizona law, enacted in 2016, that requires any entity that contracts with state or local government in Arizona to submit a written certification that it is not currently boycotting Israel and that it will not do so for the duration of the contract. More than 35 years ago, in the landmark case NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, the Supreme Court ruled unequivocally that peaceful political boycotts are a form of constitutionally protected expression. The Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal have long argued that anti-BDS laws like Arizona’s are unconstitutional because they discriminate based on viewpoint in violation of the First Amendment.

“Politicians have made it crystal clear that the goal of these laws is to stop the growing movement for Palestinian rights,” said Palestine Legal Senior Staff Attorney Radhika Sainath. “But the state can’t punish people who disagree with Israel’s discriminatory practices. If they’re allowed to punish boycotts for Palestinian rights, no political boycott will be safe.”

The amicus brief provides context for the court, making clear that Arizona’s law is part of a broader nationwide effort by Israel advocacy groups to suppress speech criticizing Israel and in support of Palestinian rights. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights have documented censorship efforts on college campuses, against public libraries, and at other institutions. Advocates for Palestinian human rights have lost jobs and incomes, been punished, and faced harassment for their advocacy.

Palestine Legal’s recently released report on 2018 suppression trends reveals an increase in attacks on Palestine advocacy by government officials, including through legislative measures targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which seeks to withdraw economic and social support for human rights violations by the state of Israel.  The Center for Constitutional Rights currently represents former volunteer Board members who have been subject to meritless lawsuits after their non-profit organizations endorsed boycotts of Israel, in Davis v. Cox and Bronner v. Duggan

Read the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal amicus brief filed today here.

A group of organizations, including American Friends Service Committee, the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church, Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Palestinian Community Network, Friends of Sabeel, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights filed a separate amicus brief explaining how and why they engage in boycotts for Palestinian rights, illustrating how they align with civil rights boycotts that the Supreme Court has stated are protected First Amendment activities. Read their brief, prepared by attorney Jethro Eisenstein, here.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University also filed an amicus brief in support of the ACLU’s lawsuit, on behalf of 13 prominent First Amendment scholars arguing that the First Amendment unequivocally protects boycotts for Palestinian rights and that the purpose of the Arizona law is clearly to suppress the political views of BDS proponents. See the brief here.

The case, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, is Jordahl v. Brnovich. A district court judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the law. That ruling is currently on appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case 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 ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

January 25, 2019