District Judge strikes down Texas Anti-Israeli Boycott Law
Judge Pitman of the Western District of Texas Thursday (April 25) issued a 56-page opinion striking down H.B. 89, the Texas Anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Act, as facially unconstitutional.
The Court held that the Texas Anti-BDS Act “threatens to suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate” on Israel and Palestine “through coercion rather than persuasion.” The Court concluded: “This the First Amendment does not allow.”
Every single “No Boycott of Israel” clause in every single state contact in Texas has today been stricken as unconstitutional. The Attorney General of Texas is no longer permitted to include or enforce “No Boycott of Israel” clauses in any state contract.
Judge Pitman’s order came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), on behalf of Bahia Amawi, a Texas speech language pathologist who lost her job because she refused to sign a “No Boycott of Israel” clause.
Arizona & Kansas Laws
In September 2018, a federal court blocked Arizona from enforcing its anti-boycott law, finding that the law likely violates the First Amendment. A federal court also issued a preliminary injunction against Kansas' enforcement of its anti-boycott law.
In January 2018, issuing the first decision of its kind, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a Kansas law targeting boycotts of Israel, ruling in an ACLU lawsuit that the First Amendment protects the right to engage in political boycotts.
The Kansas law requires that any person or company that contracts with the state sign a statement that they are “not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel.” The ACLU brought the lawsuit in October 2017 on behalf of Esther Koontz, a schoolteacher who refused to sign the certification.
Kansas ruling to address the wave of laws nationwide aiming to punish people who boycott Israel. It correctly recognized that forcing an individual to choose between exercising their rights and contracting with the state is unconstitutional.
Esther Koontz is a veteran math teacher and trainer who was told she would need to sign the certification statement in order to participate in a state program training other math teachers. She boycotts consumer goods and services produced by Israeli companies and international companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to protest the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and to pressure the government to change its policies.
Anti-Boycott legislation around the country
In response to the growing movement for Palestinian freedom, over 100 measures targeting boycotts and other advocacy for Palestinian rights have been introduced in state and local legislatures and the U.S. Congress since 2014. As of April 10, 2019, 27 states have adopted anti-boycott laws, including 5 executive orders issued by governors.
Palestine Legal and other civil rights groups are fighting back. Flagging potential constitutional violations, federal courts have already stopped two states from enforcing these laws. Lawmakers in Kansas and Arizona have opted to change the laws to avoid the litigation.
Anti-boycott laws have been enacted in the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky* Louisiana*, Maryland*, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York*, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin*.
*The governors of Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York and Wisconsin signed anti-boycott executive orders.
Although BDS hasn't inflicted significant economic damage on Israel, the movement's increasing visibility — especially on some American college campuses — has alarmed Israelis and their supporters in the United States. Many supporters of Israel have sought to portray the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.
LAT: Boycotts of Israel are a protected form of free speech
In an editorial Los Angeles Times wrote on July 5, 2016:
“In recent months, a number of states have passed laws or taken other official actions to punish companies that participate in boycotts against Israel.
“You don't have to support the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to be troubled when state governments in this country penalize American citizens for their political speech. As the Supreme Court has recognized, boycotts are a form of speech, protected under the Constitution.
“The BDS movement has been the subject of much heated debate in recent years. It calls on people and companies to boycott Israel until that country ends its occupation of "all Arab lands," ensures equal legal rights for its Arab citizens and accepts the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the former homes of their families in Israel. Some supporters of BDS accept the "two-state solution" in which Israel and an independent Palestine would exist side by side; others don't….
“Politicians are free to denounce BDS if they choose. But they must do so without infringing on the rights of their constituents", the LA Times editorial concluded.