March 14, 2011 -- ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363-2737 or media@aclufl.org

WASHINGTON D.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLUFL) on Friday filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court requesting the Court review and rule on the constitutionality of a Florida law banning Florida’s public universities from using private, state or federal funds for research and travel to certain countries named by the United States Department of State.

The ACLUFL, representing the faculty of Florida International University and professors throughout Florida, is appealing the ruling in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which overturned a ruling by Miami Federal District Court Judge Patricia Seitz in 2006 which struck down the law’s provision banning use of private funds for academic travel.

“We’re asking the Court to act because this law allows Florida to be the only state in the country with its own foreign policy which runs over, above and contrary to the foreign policy of the United States,” said Howard Simon said, Executive Director of ACLUFL. “Having 50 individual states setting individual policies for travel, commerce and communication with foreign nations is a clear violation of federal law not to mention foolish and dangerous.”

The Florida law prohibits professors, students and scientists from using funds administered by a public state university from traveling and conducting research and study in: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. The ban imposed by the Florida law includes restrictions on grants received by Florida public universities from national Foundations to support academic research in countries in which conducting research is legal under federal law.

The Petition for Writ of Certiorari and underlying challenge allege that the Florida academic travel ban exceeds and interferes with the federal laws relating to foreign relations, travel and commerce with the listed countries and therefore violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.

“Provisions of the U.S. Constitution provide that the federal government has exclusive power over foreign affairs—power over foreign affairs is not shared by the states,” said Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida. “The law also meddles with foreign commerce by imposing restrictions
on commerce with certain foreign nations that exceed the restrictions already imposed by federal law, and by discriminating against foreign commerce contrary to federal laws regulating that commerce.”

The plaintiffs in the case include the Faculty Senate of Florida International University (FIU); Lisandro Pérez, a former Professor at FIU; José Alvarez, Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida; Carmen Diana Deere, Director and Professor for the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies; Houman A. Sadri, Associate Professor at the University of Central Florida; Noel Smith, Curator of Latin American and Caribbean Art at the University of South Florida; Jean A. Martinez, Professor of Art History at FIU; Brett Jestrow, PhD student at FIU; and Vanessa Harper, Master’s student in interdisciplinary ecology at University of Florida.

FIU; and Vanessa Harper, Master’s student in interdisciplinary ecology at University of Florida. Paul F. Brinkman of Alston & Bird, a major U.S. law firm with an extensive national and international practice and 700 attorneys in five major markets, is serving as ACLU counsel in the case along with the
ACLU’s Legal Director Marshall. The case is: Faculty Senate of Florida International University et al v. John Winn et al.

"The primary effect of this legislation has been to deny Americans information about other parts of the world,” said Simon, Executive Director for the ACLU of Florida. “Crude censorship like this only serves to keep Americans uninformed about climate changes that may affect our economy, the understanding of diseases necessary to protect our health, and information about political and economic developments that may be vital for our national security."

If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case oral arguments would likely take place this fall. The Court usually accepts only 60-70 cases annually – an estimated one to two percent of the cases submitted for consideration.

A .PDF copy of the petition is available here:http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/FacultySenateVFloridaCertPetition.pdf

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