Supreme Court to Review CCR Case on Statute Criminalizing Humanitarian Aid


September 30, 2009, New York, NY – Today, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear an appeal from lower court rulings stating that key provisions of the federal “material support” statute are unconstitutional. The statute makes it a crime to provide money or goods, “training,” “personnel,” “expert advice or assistance” or “services” to any organization on the State Department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” resulting in convictions carrying maximum sentences ranging from 15 years to life.

“The material support law resurrects guilt by association and makes it a crime for a human rights group in the U.S. to provide human rights training,” said lead counsel and CCR Board Member David Cole. “We don’t make the country safer by criminalizing those who advocate nonviolent means for resolving disputes. The Supreme Court should make clear that only those who intend to further the illegal ends of an organization can be punished.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) originally filed the case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project, a human rights organization that seeks to provide nonviolent dispute resolution and human rights advocacy training to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the main Kurdish political party in Turkey, and several groups of Tamil-American physicians and other professionals who seek to provide humanitarian relief in war-torn areas of Sri Lanka controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), especially areas affected by the 2004 tsunami.

In its most recent ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the provisions of the statute making it criminal to provide “training,” “expert advice or assistance” in the form of “specialized knowledge,” or “services” to the PKK or LTTE were unconstitutionally vague. In six separate decisions, every court that has considered this case over the last 11 years has found that significant parts of the statute were unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs are represented by David Cole and Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and by cooperating attorneys Carol Sobel, Paul Hoffman, and Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran.

For more information, visit our Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project Case 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