The U.S. Supreme Court announced this week that it would not hear Arkansas Times LP v. Waldrip, a case challenging an Arkansas law that prohibits public contractors from engaging in boycotts of Israel.
Arkansas’ Act 710 requires government contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel or Israeli-controlled territories. The anti-boycott law was first introduced in 2015. Critics of the law assert that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and can be applied more broadly to issues not related to Israel.
According to a summary provided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Arkansas Times, claims that the law unconstitutionally penalizes participation in politically-motivated consumer boycotts, suppressing one side of public debate.
Arkansas Pulaski Technical College (Pulaski Tech), with whom the Arkansas Times had a consistent history of entering into advertising contracts with, requested in 2018 that the Arkansas Times certify that it was not participating in boycotts of Israel in order to renew its advertising contracts. Although the Arkansas Times was not boycotting Israel, they refused to sign the certification out of principle and filed a lawsuit with representation from the ACLU and the ACLU of Arkansas. The defendant is Mark Waldrip, a Trustee of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, as well as other members of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees affiliated with Pulaski Tech.
In January 2019, the district court dismissed the case; the ACLU and the ACLU of Arkansas appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In 2021, a three-judge panel ruled that Act 710 violated First Amendment rights. Then, the full Eighth Circuit held another trial on the case, ultimately upholding the law. The court asserted that purchasing decisions that lay at the heart of a boycott do not showcase enough individual expression to merit protection front the First Amendment.
In the fall of 2022, the Arkansas Times asked the Supreme Court to take up the case and provide clarification, asserting that the Eighth Circuit’s decision conflicts with the Supreme Court’s ruling in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. The NAACP v. Claiborne case, the Arkansas Times argued, meant that the state could not selectively penalize politically motivated consumer boycotts that the state disagreed with.
Then, early this year, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that they would not hear the Arkansas Times LP v. Waldrip case. Alan Leveritt, plaintiff and publisher of the Arkansas Times, will be featured in the documentary Boycott, which shares stories of Americans who refused to sign anti-boycott pledges.
“We are disappointed at the news today from the U.S. Supreme Court. Permitting the State of Arkansas to withhold public contracts from citizens who voice dissenting opinions is abhorrent and a violation of our First Amendment rights,” Leveritt said. “Our newspaper is not boycotting anyone, we cover local politics and issues, not the Middle East – but we do not allow the state to dictate our political positions on any issue in return for advertising dollars. The Supreme Court can ignore our First Amendment rights, but we will continue to vigorously exercise them.”
Director of Boycott, Julia Bacha, expressed similar sentiments.
“Over the past five years, federal judges in Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Georgia have all come to the same conclusion: anti-boycott bills are a flagrant violation of the First Amendment and do not belong in a democratic country,” Bacha said. “All of these rulings are still valid and boycotts are still protected across America, with the alarming exception of the states that live under the Eighth Circuit, which ruled against Leveritt (AR, IA, MN, MO, NE, ND and SD). The situation is fluid, given that new anti-boycott bills will continue to be introduced and passed, and we will certainly see new legal challenges to such laws.”
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