July 30, 2005
Like most catch-all legislation, even the Patriot Act has its limits:
A federal judge has ruled that some provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act dealing with foreign terrorist organizations remain too vague to be understood by a person of average intelligence and are therefore unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins found that Congress failed to remedy all the problems she defined in a 2004 ruling that struck down key provisions of the act. Her decision was handed down Thursday and released Friday.
“Even as amended, the statute fails to identify the prohibited conduct in a manner that persons of ordinary intelligence can reasonably understand,” the ruling said.
This is an important ruling, even though it applies only to the plaintiffs in this particular case, which was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Humanitarian Law Project. The groups sought to give U.S. citizens the right to assist two political organizations in Turkey and Sri Lanka, both of which are classified as foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. government. (They aren’t, at least not in any sense that could be understood by people of ordinary intelligence.)
The Patriot Act prohibits U.S. citizens or organizations from providing material support or resources, including “training,” “expert advice or assistance,” “personnel” and “service” to designated foreign terrorist organizations. Judge Collins understood “personnel,” but considered the other terms too vague under the Fifth Amendment—a ruling that may prove a key precedent in future cases related to the Patriot Act.
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