US District Judge Robert L. Pitman on Thursday night granted preliminary injunctions and issued a ruling finding Texas state law HB 89 unconstitutional.
Signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott just short of two years ago, on Israel’s Independence Day in May 2017, House Bill 89, a.k.a. the Anti-BDS bill, prohibits all state agencies from contracting with, and certain public funds from investing in, companies that boycott Israel.
The Governor hosted the bill signing at the Jewish Community Center in Austin, and declared: “As Israel’s number one trading partner in the United States, Texas is proud to reaffirm its support for the people of Israel and we will continue to build on our historic partnership. Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”
Well, that may no longer be the case, as Judge Pitman lectured in his ruling: “At the heart of the First Amendment lies the principle that each person should decide for him or herself the ideas and beliefs deserving of expression, consideration, and adherence. Our political system and cultural life rest upon this ideal. The purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular [is] to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation – and their ideas from suppression – at the hands of an intolerant society.”
Judge Pitman denied the state’s motion to dismiss two lawsuits filed against the law by plaintiffs Bahia Amawi, John Pluecker, Zachary Abdelhadi, Obinna Dennar, and George Hale. The judge also temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the same law.
Bahia Amawi is a child language specialist working at an elementary school in Austin, Texas, who was told she could no longer work with the public school district after refusing to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise take any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on Israel; John Pluecker, a freelance writer and translator, said he was unable to continue his contract work for a state university; Zachary Abdelhadi and Obinna Dennar, said they were unable to contract with a school district ad debate tournament judges; and George Hale, a radio reporter, said he was forced to sign a no-boycott clause in order to keep his job.
Pitman said “the statute threatens ‘to suppress unpopular ideas’ [and] manipulate the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion,'” concluding: “This the First Amendment does not allow.”
The office of Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement saying it is looking forward to “defending this law on appeal.”