Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Professors' challenge to Florida Cuba travel law could go to U.S.


Professors' challenge to Florida Cuba travel law could go to U.S.
Supreme Court
4:05 PM, Jun. 18, 2012
Written by Jim Saunders
The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE - The U.S. Supreme Court could decide this week whether to
hear a challenge to a 2006 Florida law that blocks funding for
university professors to travel to Cuba or other countries designated as
state sponsors of terrorism.

The Florida International University faculty senate and individual
professors challenged the law, contending that it improperly infringes
on the federal government's power to make decisions about foreign policy.

"As Congress and the president work to develop a response to current
global events that harmonizes the nation's self-interest with the
democratic ideals it promotes, the treatment of terrorism and the
individuals and nations sponsoring it is at the core of America's
foreign policy,'' attorneys for the professors wrote in a brief. "… That
the Florida Legislature passed the travel act (state law) to take a
harder line against Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria than the president or
Congress have taken impermissibly blunts the consequences of the
president's discretionary authority to manage relations with the listed

But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010 upheld the law. In a
brief to the Supreme Court, state attorneys wrote that professors are
"not constitutionally entitled to demand state support for their
academic travel simply because federal law permits such travel."

"Indeed, a state's decision to support academic travel to one country
rather than another, and to take into consideration the safety of its
faculty and students in making such decisions, does not present an
important federal question that should be settled by this court,'' the
brief said.

Supreme Court justices are scheduled Thursday to consider whether to
hear the case and will make an announcement later. The court receives
thousands of petitions a year for it to take cases, but agrees to hear
only a fraction. If the court agrees to hear the Florida case, it would
start a months-long process that would involve arguments and an ultimate
ruling on the professors' challenge.

Florida lawmakers in 2006 unanimously approved the bill to limit travel
to Cuba and the three other countries that the federal government
considered state sponsors of terrorism. While the bill also applied to
other Florida public officials, the highest-profile provision barred
universities from using state or non-state funding to help faculty
travel to those countries.

The state argued in its brief to the Supreme Court, in part, that it has
the right to determine how money is spent.

"Florida's decision to reserve its resources for the support of academic
travel to countries that do not sponsor terrorism is
an exercise of its sovereign legislative power, and it does not
contravene any provision of the constitution or federal law,''
the brief said.

But the university professors have received support from the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce and some other business groups, which filed a brief
with the Supreme Court opposing what they described as Florida's attempt
to "pile on" already-existing sanctions.

"The need for this court's review is pressing, as the decision below (in
the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals) allows Florida to go on record
as having a foreign policy towards certain foreign countries ---
particularly Cuba --- that is harsher than the federal government's,''
the brief said.
"It throws a wrench into our nation's foreign policy at a time when that
policy is in flux, especially towards Cuba."


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