In 2017, Texas became one of more than two dozen states to pass a law or have taken some sort of executive action explicitly targeting the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. The Texas statute barred the state from doing business with companies involved in the movement. The free speech concerns here are rather obvious, and on Thursday night, a federal judge ruled against the law.
U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Texas Robert Pitman, an appointee of Barack Obama, delivered an injunction to the Texas law on Thursday night. The lead plaintiff, Bahia Amawi, is an Austrian-born American citizen and speech pathologist with family members in Palestine. Due to her support of BDS, Amawi had refused to sign a contract with a local school district for whom she had worked for nearly a decade which explicitly said she wouldn’t boycott Israel, and thus was forced to end her relationship with the school district.
In his opinion, Pitman directly took on the fact that just five lawmakers in the entire Texas legislature voted against the bill. “Texas touts these numbers as the statute’s strength,” Pitman wrote, in finding that the law violates the First Amendment. “They are, rather, its weakness.” Later, he wrote that “the statute threatens ‘to suppress unpopular ideas’ and ‘manipulate the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.’ This the First Amendment does not allow.”
This is the third time that the federal courts have struck down anti-BDS laws. In January 2018, a federal judge temporarily blocked a similar law in Kansas, after which the state amended the law. Last September, another federal court followed with a ruling against an anti-BDS law in Arizona. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed an amended law last week.
As for Amawi, Pitman noted in his ruling that the school district in Texas she worked with had said it would offer her a new contract if the law was invalidated by the federal courts. Amawi told the Washington Post after the ruling came down that she expects to get her job back next year. “It’s a huge win not just for me, but for everybody here in Texas,” she told the Washington Post. “I was in tears.”