Tuesday, June 26, 2012

High court lets Cuba travel ban for professors stand for professors

Posted on Monday, 06.25.12
Cuba travel

High court lets Cuba travel ban for professors stand for professors

A controversial Florida law aimed at barring travel by research
professors to Cuba and other countries stays in place, after the U.S.
Supreme Court declined to take up the case.
By Mary Ellen Klas
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left intact a
controversial Florida law that restricts state colleges and universities
from traveling to Cuba and other "terrorist states," despite indications
last year that the court would consider a review.

Amid the flurry of rulings from the high court on Monday was a denial of
review of Florida's "Travel to Terrorist States Act." The action
effectively lets stand a lower court ruling upholding the 2006 law,
which bars public schools and universities from using state money for
travel to countries such as Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria and other nations
considered "sponsors of terrorism."

The court decision not to hear the case deals a "devastating blow" to
Florida universities, said Howard Simon, head of the Florida chapter of
the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU challenged the law, along
with faculty at Florida International University, the University of
South Florida and the University of Florida. Simon predicted the law
will lead to an exodus of faculty and research dollars from Florida schools.

"The research is not going to end. It will just be done by universities
elsewhere outside of Florida,'' Simon said. "It will keep us in an
enforced state of ignorance."

U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican who sponsored the law when he
was in the state Legislature, commended the court's action, saying it
was "a victory for Florida taxpayers" who "do not want their money or
publicly funded resources to be utilized for travel to terrorist
nations, or to enrich terrorist regimes."

Simon, however, said the premise of the law is flawed, saying the
research doesn't aid the terrorist countries and helps the U.S.

"It's not a giveaway to Cuba if we study the country's economy, weather
patterns and political conditions,'' he said. "We benefit by knowing
more. We don't benefit by forced ignorance."

The law was first ruled unconstitutional in 2008 by U.S. District Judge
Patricia Seitz, who declared it "an impermissible sanction" that served
"as an obstacle to the objectives of the federal government."

The ruling was appealed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist and former Attorney
General Bill McCollum, and the lower court ruling was overturned.

The appeals court found that Florida's "traditional state interest in
managing its own spending and the scope of its academic programs was
sufficient to overcome some indistinct desire on the part of the
executive branch or Congress to encourage generally academic travel."

In March 2011, the ACLU and university professors asked the U.S. Supreme
Court to review the case, and the high court asked the U.S. Department
of Justice to prepare a brief on the issue. But the justices chose not
to call for a hearing on the case, ending the appeal.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter


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