Attorneys for an Arkansas newspaper asked a federal judge Friday to block a law requiring that contractors pledge not to boycott Israel, saying it forces businesses to give up their free speech rights in order to receive state money.
U.S. District Judge Brian Miller heard arguments in the Arkansas Times’ lawsuit challenging the state’s 2017 anti-boycott law. Miller said he hoped to rule soon on whether to block the law, which the Times and the American Civil Liberties Union argue is unconstitutional. The law requires contractors to reduce their fees by 20 percent if they don’t sign the pledge.
The Times’ lawsuit says the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College refused to contract for advertising with the newspaper unless the Arkansas Times signed the pledge. The paper isn’t engaged in a boycott against Israel.
“It makes the plaintiff endorse the idea that the government can make an individual take a political position as a condition of getting money,” Bettina Brownstein, an attorney for the ACLU of Arkansas, told Miller.
The state has argued that a boycott isn’t constitutionally protected speech, and that the pledge doesn’t force the Times to take a political position.
“It simply certifies a factual statement about whether or not the Times intends to boycott,” Assistant Solicitor General Dylan Jacobs said.
Arkansas’ law is similar to restrictions enacted in other states that have been challenged. The measures are aimed at a movement protesting Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.
A federal judge in September blocked Arizona from enforcing a similar measure. A federal judge also blocked Kansas from enforcing its anti-boycott measure, but lawmakers rewrote the measure so that it no longer applied to individuals and nonprofits and only applied to state contracts worth $100,000 or more. Arkansas’ law applies to contracts worth $1,000 or more.
A federal lawsuit was filed last month against a similar law in Texas.