LOS ANGELES – A federal judge struck down President Bush's authority to designate groups as terrorists, saying his post-Sept. 11 executive order was unconstitutional and vague.
Some parts of the Sept. 24, 2001 order tagging 27 groups and individuals as "specially designated global terrorists" were too vague and could impinge on First Amendment rights of free association, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins said.
The order gave the president "unfettered discretion" to label groups without giving them a way to challenge the designations, she said in a Nov. 21 ruling that was made public Tuesday.
The judge, who two years ago invalidated portions of the U.S. Patriot Act, rejected several sections of Bush's Executive Order 13224 and enjoined the government from blocking the assets of two foreign groups.
However, she let stand sections that would penalize those who provide "services" to designated terrorist groups.
She said such services would include the humanitarian aid and rights training proposed by the plaintiffs.
The ruling was praised by David Cole, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who represented the plaintiff Humanitarian Law Project.
It "says that even in fighting terrorism the president cannot be given a blank check to blacklist anyone he considers a bad guy or a bad group and you can't imply guilt by association," Cole said.
He said the Humanitarian Law Project will appeal those portions of the executive order which were allowed to stand.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman had a mixed reaction to the judge's ruling.
"We are pleased the court rejected many of the constitutional arguments raised by the plaintiffs, including their challenge to the government's ban on providing services to terrorist organizations," Justice spokesman Charles Miller said Tuesday. "However, we believe the court erred in finding that certain other aspects of the executive order were unconstitutional."
The judge's ruling was a reversal of her own tentative findings last July in which she indicated she would uphold wide powers asserted by Bush under an anti-terror financing law. She delayed her ruling then to allow more legal briefs to be filed.
The long-running litigation has centered on two groups, the Liberation Tigers, which seeks a separate homeland for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, and Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan, a political organization representing the interests of Kurds in Turkey.
Both groups have been designated by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations.
The judge's 45-page ruling granted in part and denied in part a legal challenge brought by the Humanitarian Law Project, which seeks to provide training to the groups in human rights advocacy and provide them with humanitarian aid.