Free Speech in the Age of Terrorism & Mehanna v. United States: SCOTUS Passes Up an Opportunity to Clean Up an Old Mess

Author: Rebecca Dussich, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review 

In the order following the Supreme Court’s September conference, the Court declined to hear a case that would have clarified §§ 2339A and B of Title 18 of the U.S. Code and prevented unlawful encroachment on free speech rights. Tarek Mehanna, convicted of providing “material support” to a foreign terrorist organization, asked the Court to clarify its interpretation of the statute under which he was prosecuted.[1] The standard used to support this conviction, established in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, requires action “in coordination with, or at the direction of” the terrorist organization in question.[2] Because HLP did not adequately explain this standard, the government has been able to convict defendants like Mehanna despite insufficient evidence to support the “coordination” requirement. Now, the Court has passed up an opportunity to correct this error by denying Mehanna’s petition for writ of certiorari, leaving his conviction in place, and effectively supporting an improper and ineffective standard. If the Supreme Court were to give courts and juries a more workable set of guidelines under which to establish “coordination,” they could more fairly decide these cases.

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