Legal Information Institute Case Summary

The Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School’s Case Summary of Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder is now available for viewing in addition to the summary from the Center for Constitutional Rights available here.

The original article can be found here:


Whether 18 U.S.C. 2339B(a)(1), which prohibits providing certain types of aid to known terrorist organizations, violates the First and Fifth Amendments by restricting political speech and including overly vague provisions?


In 1996, Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). See Humanitarian Law Project v. Mukasey, 552 F.3d 916, 920 (9th Cir. 2009). The AEDPA permits the Secretary of State to designate an organization as a “foreign terrorist organization.” See 8 U.S.C. 1189(a). The AEDPA goes on to criminalize “knowingly provid[ing] material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization,” including the nonviolent activities of such an organization.18 U.S.C. 2339B(a)(1)552 F.3d at 920.

In 1997, the Secretary of State designated thirty organizations, including the Kurdistan Workers Party (“PKK”) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (“LTTE”), as foreign terrorist organizations. See 552 F.3d at 921. While both PKK and LTTE engage in terrorist activities, they also engage in activities that help Kurds living in Turkey and Tamils living in Sri Lanka engage in self-determination. See id. The Humanitarian Law Project (“HLP”) sued in federal district court, seeking a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the provision prohibiting providing “material support or resources” to PKK and LTTE. See id. Among other things, HLP wants to train PKK members on how to use humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve disputes and provide legal services in negotiating peace agreements between LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. See id. HLP claimed that the AEDPA violated their First Amendment and Fifth Amendmentrights. See id. The district court partially granted HLP’s motion for a preliminary injunction, ruling that the government could not enforce the AEDPA prohibition on providing training and personnel to PKK and LTTE. See id. at 921–22. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the Act was unconstitutionally vague with regard to its prohibitions against providing “personnel” and “training” to foreign terrorist organizations. See id. at 922.

In 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act amended the AEDPA’s definition of “material support or resources” to include “expert advice or assistance.” See 552 F.3d at 922.In a second round of litigation, the district court found this term to be unconstitutionally vague; the Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed and read a scienterrequirement into § 2339B. See id. at 922–23. Congress then passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (“IRTPA”), which included a scienterrequirement and defined the terms “material support or resources,” “training,” and “personnel.” See id. at 923. The district court then consolidated the two cases and ruled that the terms “training” and “service” were unconstitutionally vague, as was a portion of the definition of “expert advice or assistance.” See 924. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling, and the Supreme Court granted certiorariSee id. at 933.

Read more

Comments are closed.

Log in