AUSTIN – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas today filed a lawsuit challenging a state law that requires government contractors to certify that they are not engaged in boycotts of Israel or territories controlled by Israel. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four Texans, argues that the law, HB 89, which went into effect last year, violates the First Amendment’s protection against government intrusion into political speech.
“This lawsuit is about fundamental First Amendment rights, which protect us all from having the government use its power to force us to choose one side or another in a public debate,”said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Whatever you may think about boycotts of Israel, the bottom line is that political boycotts are a legitimate form of nonviolent protest. The state cannot use the contracting process as an ideological litmus test or to tell people what kind of causes they may or may not support.”
The lawsuit is brought on behalf of four people who were forced under the law to choose between signing the certification or forgoing professional opportunities and losing income: John Pluecker, a freelance writer who lost two service contracts from the University of Houston; George Hale, a reporter for KETR who was forced to sign the certification against his conscience in order to keep his job; Obinna Dennar, a Ph.D. candidate at Rice University, who was forced to forfeit payment for judging at a debate tournament; and Zachary Abdelhadi, a student at Texas State University, who has had to forego opportunities to judge high school debate tournaments.
“The constitution clearly prohibits the government from suppressing participation in political boycotts,” said Brian Hauss, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology project. “This misguided law seeks to undermine a form of protected expression that has been a part of our nation’s constitutional tradition since the founding.”
Since 2017, the ACLU has successfully blocked anti-boycott state laws in Kansas and Arizona. In January 2018, a federal district court preliminarily enjoined an anti-boycott state law in Kansas, holding that the First Amendment protects citizens’ right to “band together” and “express collectively their dissatisfaction with the injustice and violence they perceive, as experienced both by Palestinians and Israeli citizens.” In September, a district court joined a similar anti-boycott law in Arizona.
The ACLU takes no position on campaigns to boycott Israel or any other foreign country, but it has long defended the First Amendment right to participate in political boycotts.
The lawsuit filed today seeks an order from the court declaring the law unconstitutional and enjoining the enforcement of the law’s certification requirement. Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from the ACLU of Texas, the ACLU Speech Privacy & Technology Project, and Kevin Dubose of Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend LLP in Houston.