Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)- Guest Blogger
You may recall the demonstrations against the NATO Summit that was taking place in Chicago in May of 2012. On May 16th, 2012, the Chicago Police Department made a military style raid on an apartment where several demonstrators were staying during the Summit.
“On May 16, 2012, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) conducted a violent midnight preemptive raid of an apartment housing 11 activists. Two of them, it would later be exposed, were actually undercover informants working on behalf of the CPD. Staying in an apartment in the Bridgeport neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, the activists were in town to protest the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit, held May 20-21. The military-style raid led to the eventual charging of three of those activists in the Windy City to protest the NATO Summit with conspiracy to commit acts of domestic terrorism and other related charges – under Illinois’ terrorism statute – in the form of a legal bail proffer. It was the first time the law – passed in haste by the Illinois legislature after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – had ever been used.” Truthout
For the purposes of understanding the issues here, I highly recommend reading the Illinois terrorism statute that is linked above. The defendant’s counsel from the aptly named Peoples Law Office, are attacking this state terrorism statute on constitutional grounds which will constitute the first time any state terrorism statute has been challenged on these grounds. The Defendants are claiming that the statute is constitutionally vague and when you read the statute, you may agree with their claim. “Illinois’ terrorism statute defines terrorism, as the “intent to intimidate or coerce a significant portion of a civilian population.” Left undefined are the concepts found within the definition itself: “intimidate or coerce,” “significant portion,” and “civilian population.” Truthout
Isn’t Free Speech supposed to allow any of us the right to challenge the government by trying to convince fellow citizens through our speech, as long as our speech does not amount to yelling Fire in a crowded theater? I am not surprised that the statute may be vague in light of the hysteria after the 9/11 attacks, but I am surprised that this is the first time any State’s terrorism statutes have been challenged. I thought Free Speech was still guaranteed in this country by the First Amendment. What would the NRA do if gun activists were indicted under a State statute that prohibited the use of their weapons within the state? I think we have already seen what they would do and how the judiciary would respond.
“The lack of narrowly tailored definitions of these concepts has left the People’s Law Office to conclude that the state’s definition of terrorism is “vague and standard-less … (which) allows for the arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement of the law.” In the case of the NATO 3, the People’s Law Office argues that they were slapped with these overly broad charges “based on their political views and the political motivations and predilections of the police and prosecutors.”
Given these facts on the ground, the defense argued that the current terrorism law on the books in the Land of Lincoln violates US and state-level constitutional law both on due process and First Amendment grounds due to its sheer vagueness.” Truthout
The NATO 3 defendants have an uphill battle in convincing the court on the constitutional vagueness grounds due to the fact that most courts have given deference to executive actions related to “terrorism” cases. Just what constitutes terrorism? Should mere words and peaceful demonstrations be considered terrorism? If protesting against the NATO Summit is terrorism, wouldn’t the Nazi’s marching in Skokie have been considered terrorism as well, if the statute was in place at the time? The defendants claim that the police informants were responsible in procuring the offensive materials that they are being charged with having in their possession. How far can police undercover operatives go before it is entrapment?
Would the Civil Rights March in Selma have constituted terrorism under this allegedly vague statute? Is this statute just another attempt by government to control what we say and how we think? Is the First Amendment dead in Illinois if this statute is allowed to stand, or just merely wounded? Am I subject to charges under this allegedly vague statute for suggesting that these alleged terrorists were merely exercising their First Amendment rights? What do you think?