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Court upholds controversial terrorism law

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld one of the most controversial Bush administration laws in the war on terrorism.

By a vote of 6-3, with Justice John Paul Stevens joining the majority, the court upheld a law that makes it a crime to provide "material support" to organizations designated by the State Department as terrorist groups.

Lawyers in California wanted to provide legal training and help to groups in Turkey and Sri Lanka that were on the State Department's list. The lawyers said their assistance -- teaching international law and consulting on how to petition the U.N. -- would not further any terrorist activities of the groups.

But the court's majority disagreed. "Such support frees up other resources within the organization that may be put to violent ends. It also helps lend legitimacy to foreign terrorist groups," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority. A group could also "pursue peaceful negotiation as a means of buying time to recover from short-term setbacks, lulling opponents into complacency, and ultimately preparing for renewed attacks," Roberts said.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for himself, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor in dissent, said the decision failed to appreciate the difference between giving a group money, which could be diverted to support violence, and teaching about the law, which could not. Peaceful advocacy is not what Congress intended to criminalize, he said.

The case involved legal help for two groups that want independent states for the Kurds in Pakistan and Tamils in Sri Lanka. Both were described in today's ruling as deadly. The Sri Lankan group, the LTTE, "has engaged in extensive suicide bombings and political assassinations, including killings of the Sri Lankan President, Security Minister, and Deputy Defense Minister," the court said said.

The justices will be back in the courtroom on Thursday, June 24th, for more decisions and again on Monday, June 28th. More decision days could be added as the court speeds toward the end of its term.