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Federal Judge Halts A High-Profile Anti-BDS Law In Texas

By  Josh

In 2017, Texas passed into law a statute that forbids government agencies in Texas from doing business with contractors who boycott Israel. The bill passed the Texas House of Representatives by a 131-0 margin. At the time, Joel Schwitzer, the regional director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Dallas, told The Jerusalem Post: “We appreciate the leadership of Representative Phil King in authoring the bill. It is gratifying to see our elected officials sending such a clear and principled message that Texas will not do business with those who boycott our friend Israel.”

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott was positively emphatic, upon signing the bill into law, referring to anti-Israel policies as necessarily also being “anti-Texas policies”:

“I am proud to have commemorated Israel’s Independence Day by signing into law Anti-BDS legislation in Texas,” said Governor Abbott. “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.”

The law, according to the governor’s press release, “prohibits the state of Texas from conducting business with companies involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.”

This past December, after groups such as the ACLU filed First Amendment claims against Texas’ law, Texas Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) announced a plan to tweak the measure to better assure its constitutionality. USA Today reported:

The Texas lawmaker who wrote an anti-boycott of Israel law that has led to the canceling of contracts for a debate judge, a translator, a speech therapist and a public radio station reporter said Thursday that he will introduce legislation next month to clarify individuals were never the intended targets.

The comments by Texas Rep. Phil King follows the filing of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas over the 2017 law that requires contractors doing business with the state to certify they are not engaged in boycotts of Israel.

Earlier this month, the Texas legislature ratified King’s legislative amendments. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, King stated from the Texas House floor: “Two years ago, the Legislature put this policy in place that said we didn’t want taxpayer dollars being spent to promote a boycott against Israel. The intent of this legislation is to narrow the (law) … which had some unintended consequences.” The Sun-Sentinel confirms that King’s amended law would make categorical exceptions for “individuals and smaller companies, such as those with fewer than 10 full-time employees or valued under $100,000.”

Alas, there was still a major setback yesterday for anti-BDS activists. Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Texas, an Obama judicial nominee, enjoined enforcement of the initial 2017 statute on First Amendment grounds. The Texas Tribune reports:

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the enforcement of a state law that prohibits government agencies in Texas from doing business with contractors who are boycotting Israel.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued an injunction Thursday against the law, saying it threatens to suppress unpopular ideas and manipulates “the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.”

“This the First Amendment does not allow,” he wrote.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has already announced that he will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

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