Last Updated July 10, 2023
Anti-boycott laws have been challenged in federal court, including in Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland and Texas. Federal district courts in four states have ruled that these states’ laws, all of which require contractors with the state to sign pledges that they don’t boycott Israel, are likely unconstitutional and that boycotts for Palestinian rights are protected by the First Amendment. However, in each state, the legislatures changed the laws that were challenged so that they no longer applied to the plaintiffs in order to moot the lawsuits. In February 2023, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a decision upholding Arkansas’ anti-BDS law, but that decision remains an outlier among courts that have addressed the constitutionality of these laws.
Arkansas Times LP v. Waldrip
In December 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the Arkansas anti-boycott law on behalf of The Arkansas Times. The paper had lost substantial ad revenue after its publisher refused to sign a pledge that it would not boycott Israel. The paper argued that it should not be compelled to speak against boycotts for Palestinian rights, even though the newspaper itself takes no position on them. In January 2019 the district court dismissed the case. In February 2021 the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding the law unconstitutional. The state moved for a larger panel of judges to rehear the case. In June 2022, the Eighth Circuit, sitting en banc, upheld the Arkansas law. In February 2023, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the case.
Jordahl v. Brnovich
In December 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Arizona’s anti-boycott law on behalf of Mikkel Jordahl. After Arizona adopted its anti-boycott law, Jordahl, an attorney with a solo law practice, faced a difficult choice between his personal commitment to boycotts in support of Palestinian freedom and his professional interest in contracting with the state to provide legal services to people incarcerated in Coconino County, Arizona. In September 2018, the federal district court in Arizona blocked enforcement of the unconstitutional law. In 2019, the state legislature amended the law to exclude the plaintiff, rendering the case moot.
American Muslims for Palestine v. Arizona State University
In March 2018, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit on behalf of American Muslims for Palestine and Dr. Hatem Bazian. Dr. Bazian had been invited to speak at Arizona State University but was required to sign a certification that he would not boycott Israel. After CAIR challenged the state law requiring the certification, the university offered Dr. Bazian a contract without the certification requirement.
Martin v. Wrigley
In February 2020, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin, who had been invited to speak at a conference at Georgia Southern University. The event was canceled after Martin refused to sign a pledge to not boycott Israel, required under Georgia law. In May 2021, the district court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss, calling the certification requirements of Georgia’s anti-boycott law “unconstitutional compelled speech.” After the ruling, Georgia legislators passed an amendment so that the law would no longer apply to contracts like Martin’s that are below $100,000. After the amendment went into effect in 2022, the court dismissed the case as moot, declining to hold state officials liable for the harm already done to Martin under the doctrine of qualified immunity. In unpublished per curiam decision in June 2023, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling. Neither court ruled on the constitutionality of the law.
Koontz v. Watson
In October 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a challenge against the Kansas anti-boycott law on behalf of math teacher Esther Koontz. Koontz engaged in a boycott for Palestinian rights based on her Mennonite church’s endorsement of the boycott. In order to participate in a teacher training program, Koontz was required to sign a certification that she does not boycott Israel. After Koontz sued, a district court blocked enforcement of the unconstitutional law in January 2018. The state legislature later amended the law to exclude the plaintiff, rendering the case moot.
Ali v. Hogan
In January 2019, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a lawsuit against Maryland’s anti-boycott executive order on behalf of Saqib Ali, a software engineer who was unable to apply for contracts with the state because of Maryland’s requirement that he pledge not to boycott Israel. The case was dismissed in October 2020 after a judge found that Ali did not have standing to challenge the law because he had not applied for or been awarded a state contract. The Fourth Circuit upheld the dismissal on appeal.
A & R Engineering and Testing v. Houston
After Texas evaded earlier challenges to its anti-boycott law, described below, by amending the law to apply only to contracts over $100,000, the Council on American-Islamic Relations returned to court to block enforcement of the unconstitutional law in October 2021. The suit, filed against the City of Houston on behalf of Russ Hassouna and his firm, A&R Engineering and Testing, argued that after nearly two decades of contracting with the city, Hassouna was unable to renew his firm’s contract because the law required him to certify that the firm would not boycott Israel. In January 2022, the district court issued an injunction blocking both the city and the state attorney general from enforcing the law against Hassouna, citing constitutional concerns. Hassouna’s firm entered into a contract with the city without the anti-boycott provision. Texas appealed the decision, arguing that because the state had not taken action against Hassouna, the state attorney general should not have been part of the lawsuit. In July 2023, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated that portion of the injunction and dismissed the claims against the attorney general.
Amawi v. Pflugerville Independent School District
In December 2018, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit on behalf of Bahia Amawi, a speech language pathologist who had worked with Arabic-speaking students in an Austin suburb since 2009. Amawi was told that under Texas law she would have to certify that she would not boycott Israel in order to renew her contract with the school district. The case was consolidated with Pluecker v. Paxton below.
Pluecker v. Paxton
In December 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Texas anti-boycott law on behalf of four plaintiffs: two students who were told they had to sign pledges not to boycott Israel in order to judge high school debate tournaments, a reporter who was compelled to sign the certification to keep his job at a Texas A&M radio station, and a writer who lost two contracts as a translator and a speaker at the University of Houston for his refusal to sign the certification. After the case was consolidated with Amawi v. Pflugerville Independent School District above, the district court blocked enforcement of the unconstitutional law. In May 2019, the Texas legislature amended the law to exclude the plaintiffs, rendering the case moot.