Judge Rules 2001 Listing of Terrorists Violated Law

A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled that President Bush’s designation of 27 groups and individuals as “specially designated global terrorists” in a Sept. 23, 2001, executive order violated the Constitution because it was made without any announced standards.

The order “provides no explanation of the basis upon which these 27 groups and individuals were designated,” the judge, Audrey B. Collins of Federal District Court in Los Angeles, wrote Monday.

“The president’s designation authority is subject only to his unfettered discretion.”

That means, Judge Collins wrote, that “the president’s designation authority is constitutionally vague.”

David Cole, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said yesterday that Judge Collins had broken new ground.

“It’s the first decision to challenge the constitutionality of what is clearly the broadest power to blacklist individuals and groups on the statute books,” Mr. Cole said.

The designation blocks financial and other interactions with the specified groups.

The challenge was brought by the Humanitarian Law Project, a human rights organization, and by groups of Tamil immigrants and people associated with them.

The plaintiffs said they wanted to provide lawful and nonviolent support to two of the organizations designated by Mr. Bush as terror organizations, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Mr. Bush’s order was based on a 1977 amendment to the Trading With the Enemy Act, which gave the president broad power to block transactions when the nation faces an “unusual and extraordinary threat.”

In addition to designating the 27 groups and individuals, the order authorized the Treasury secretary to add more people or groups who provided services to or were “otherwise associated with” the original ones.

The plaintiffs said they feared being designated as terrorists given the breadth of the authority granted to the Treasury Department. The chilling effect of the possibility of being designated a terrorist organization, they said, impinged on their First Amendment right to freedom of association.

Judge Collins enjoined the government from designating the plaintiffs as terrorists based on their association with the two groups they sought to support but said the ban on providing services to them was not unconstitutionally vague.

Tasia Scolinos, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the government was pleased that Judge Collins upheld the ban on providing services to terrorist organizations.

“However,” Ms. Scolinos said, “we believe the court erred in finding that certain other aspects of the executive order were unconstitutional.”

The government initially responded by saying it had never used the “otherwise associated with” provision as the sole basis for a designation. It later revised its statement, saying it had done so in at least 2 of 375 further designations.

“It is axiomatic,” Judge Collins ruled, “that the Constitution prohibits punishing a person for mere association.”

She added that nothing in the executive order “limits its application only to those instances of association involving activity, let alone activity that furthers or advances an organization’s illegal goals.”

Like Mr. Bush’s own authority under the 1977 law, the authority he delegated to the Treasury Department, Judge Collins wrote, “contains no definable criteria” and so “is unconstitutionally vague on its face.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The New York Times, USA
Nov. 29, 2006
Adam Liptak

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This post was last updated: Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 3:35 PM, Central European Time (CET)