Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project case brief

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project case brief summary
130 S.Ct. 2705 (2010)

Plaintiffs, United States citizens and organizations, challenged the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C.S. § 2339B, which prohibited provision of material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations. Following remand, the district court granted partial summary judgment to plaintiffs on vagueness grounds, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Plaintiffs wished to provide support to two groups that were designated as foreign terrorist organizations. Plaintiffs claimed that they sought to facilitate only the groups' lawful, nonviolent purposes. Plaintiffs alleged that § 2339B violated the Fifth Amendment due to vagueness and infringed their First Amendment rights to free speech and association. Plaintiffs' proposed activities included training group members to use the law to peacefully resolve disputes and teaching members how to petition representative bodies for relief.


  • The Court held that § 2339B, when applied to speech, did not require proof of intent to further a terrorist organization's illegal activities. Section 2339B was not impermissibly vague as applied to plaintiffs' proposed activities, most of which fell within the scope of the statutory terms "training" and "expert advice or assistance." 
  • Nor did § 2339B violate the First Amendment as applied. 
  • The statute did not prohibit independent advocacy, and Congress and the Executive Branch had determined that providing even seemingly benign support to a foreign terrorist organization bolstered terrorist activities. 
  • The statute did not penalize mere association.


The court of appeals' judgment was reversed insofar as it found § 2339B to be vague as applied; the judgment was otherwise affirmed. The cases were remanded for further proceedings. 6-3 Decision; 1 Dissent.

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