Georgia is the latest state in which a federal court has held unconstitutional a state law meant to punish anyone who won’t promise to not encourage boycotts of Israel.
The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia), CAIR Legal Defense Fund and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) today welcomed a “major victory” in their lawsuit against Georgia’s Israel boycott law after a federal district court ruled that the State of Georgia’s 2016 law punishing boycotts of Israel is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.
In an order released today, Judge Mark Cohen ruled that the University System of Georgia violated journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin’s constitutional rights when it cancelled her speaking engagement on a college campus because she refused to sign a state-mandated oath pledging not to engage in boycotts of Israel. Martin is a well-known advocate of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which the court ruled is protected by the First Amendment.
This should sound familiar. Arkansas has just such a law, successfully challenged by the Arkansas Times, which lost a University of Arkansas advertising contract for refusing to sign with an oath. We’ve never written about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement but objected to signing an oath about potential content in our publications. The Arkansas law requires the oath of state contractors or else a reduction in their customary charges.
The rest of the Arkansas story is that despite losses for such laws in every judicial circuit they’ve been challenged, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court and the law remains in effect. I5 IW enforced in Arkansas, including for occasional musical performers at state parks, part-time college instructors and many others. Many media have apparently signed the oath.
The ruling in Georgia was on the state’s motion to dismiss the cases. The judge denied it. A final ruling hasn’t been reached, though the finding today is a positive sign.
The judge wrote that the law:
… prohibits inherently expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment, burdens Martin’s right to free speech, and is not narrowly tailored to further a substantial state interest.
Even assuming that Georgia’s interest in furthering foreign policy goals regarding relations with Israel is a substantial state interest, Defendants fail to explain how Martin’s advocacy of a boycott of Israel has any bearing on Georgia’s ability to advance foreign policy goals with Israel.
The same reasoning, if not the court ruling itself, applies in Arkansas. The laws have been found defective in Arizona, Kansas and Texas and a challenge is pending in Maryland. Some states have amended the laws to make them less subject to challenge, but Arkansas has not.
Coincidentally, Bro. Jason Rapert had an Israeli consult drop by the Capitol today to talk up Israel with some like-minded politicians.
Attending a very informative briefing from Israeli Consul General Gilad Katz. Arkansas and the United States are strong allies of Israel & are grateful for all their incredible contributions to our world. 🇺🇸 🇮🇱 @RepFrenchHill @jasonrapert @ChristLawmakers #arpx #arleg pic.twitter.com/Eqe7v1TvfR
— David Ray (@DavidARay) May 24, 2021