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Context of 'December 10, 2007: Appeals Court Upholds Ruling: Parts of Patriot Act Unconstitutional'

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Sen. Russell Feingold will ultimately be the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.
Sen. Russell Feingold will ultimately be the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act. [Source: Publicity photo]The “anti-terrorism” Patriot Act is introduced in Congress. The act is technically known as The USA PATRIOT Act, which stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” [US Congress, 10/2/2001] The legislation was ready four days after the 9/11 attacks, in what Attorney General John Ashcroft called a “full-blown legislative proposal” ready to submit to Congress. The proposal is actually a revamping and enlargement of the Clinton-era antiterrorism legislation first proposed after the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing (see April 25, 1996). [Roberts, 2008, pp. 36]

Entity Tags: US Congress, USA Patriot Act, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Federal judge Audrey Collins rules that parts of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional, specifically portions barring individuals or entities from giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated as international terrorist organizations. Collins rules that the ban on on providing “expert advice or assistance” is impermissibly vague, and violates the First and Fifth Amendments. The advice or assistance forbidden under the act “could be construed to include unequivocally pure speech and advocacy protected by the First Amendment,” Collins writes. The suit, brought before a Los Angeles court by the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), was originally filed in 1998 by five groups and two US citizens who wanted to provide political and financial support to the nonviolent arms of two dissident organizations designated as terrorists by the United States: the Kurdish Workers Party in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. The suit was later amended to include the Patriot Act. The HLP argued that the plaintiffs were threatened with 15 years in prison if they provided advice to the groups. The Patriot Act, Collins rules, does not differentiate between impermissible advice on violence and encouraging the use of peaceful, nonviolent means to achieve goals. “The USA Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature,” she writes. HLP attorney David Cole calls the ruling “a victory for everyone who believes the war on terrorism ought to be fought consistent with constitutional principles.” The ruling is the first judicial setback for the Patriot Act. [Associated Press, 1/26/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 1/27/2004] The judge’s verdict will be upheld on appeal (see December 10, 2007).

Entity Tags: Humanitarian Law Project, Audrey Collins, USA Patriot Act, David D. Cole

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Ninth Court of Appeals in San Francisco upholds a 2004 ruling (see January 23, 2004) that portions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional. The original ruling found that portions of the Act banning any advice or assistance to designated terrorist organizations is too broad and vague; the appeals court agrees, ruling that the language of the Act is too vague to be understood by someone of ordinary intelligence. Without clear language, the Act says that those who provide assistance to foreign terrorist organizations could be subject to prison terms of up to 15 years. To survive a vagueness challenge, the appeals court says, a statute “must be sufficiently clear to put a person of ordinary intelligence on notice that his or her contemplated conduct is unlawful.” Congressional amendments to the Act have not remedied the problem, the court says. [Associated Press, 12/10/2007]

Entity Tags: USA Patriot Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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