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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Texas Law That Bars Contractors From Boycotting Israel

Todd Wiseman/The Texas Tribune

A federal judge has temporarily blocked a Texas law that requires people contracting with the state to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. 

The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman stems from a lawsuit filed by a speech pathologist with the Pflugerville Independent School District whose contract was terminated after she refused to sign a document stating she would not boycott Israel.

Bahia Amawi, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian origin, sued, arguing Texas law violates her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  

The law, which the Legislature passed in 2017, says:

A governmental entity may not enter into a contract with a company for goods or services unless the contract contains a written verification from the company that it:   (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.

When he signed the bill, Gov. Greg Abbott called anti-Israel policies "anti-Texas policies."

According to court documents,  Amawi said she participates in the boycott movement because she's an advocate for "Palestinian human rights and justice."

Attorney General Ken Paxton argued the law doesn't violate anyone’s constitutional rights and that it's intended for companies, not individuals. He asked the court to dismiss the case.  

The judge refused. In his ruling, Pitman said boycotts are protected speech and that the law violates the First Amendment by threatening to "suppress unpopular ideas" and “manipulate the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.”

The ACLU of Texas applauded the decision, calling it a "victory for the free speech rights of all Texans."

“The right to boycott is deeply ingrained in American tradition, from our nation’s founding to today," Tommy Buser-Clancy, who argued the case in court, said in a statement. "The state cannot dictate the views of its own citizens on the Israel/Palestine conflict – or any issue – by preventing them from exercising their First Amendment right to boycott.”

Pitman ordered that the law not be enforced while the case proceeds. 

Twenty-five other states have similar anti-boycott legislation or executive orders.

This post has been be updated. 

Trey Shaar is an All Things Considered producer, reporter and host. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @treyshaar.
Stephanie Federico is a digital news editor at Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @steph_federico.
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