Plaintiffs claim that §2339B is invalid to the extent it prohibits them from engaging in certain specified activities…. [T]hose activities are: (1) “train[ing] members of [the] PKK on how to use humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve disputes”; (2) “engag[ing] in political advocacy on behalf of Kurds who live in Turkey”; and (3) “teach[ing] PKK members how to petition various representative bodies such as the United Nations for relief.”…
The Court first held that teaching international law fell under the category of “training” and “expert advice or assistance", and thus constituted material assistance to terrorist groups under the terms of the statute. It then held that restriction constitutional under First Amendment attack.
The dissenters (Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor) responded:
[T]he majority discusses the plaintiffs’ proposal to “‘train members of [the] PKK on how to use humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve disputes.’” The majority justifies the criminalization of this activity insignificant part on the ground that “peaceful negotiation[s]” might just “bu[y] time . . . , lulling opponents into complacency.” And the PKK might use its new information about “the structures of the international legal system . . . to threaten, manipulate, and disrupt.” What is one to say about these arguments—arguments that would deny First Amendment protection to the peaceful teaching of international human rights law on the ground that a little knowledge about “the international legal system” is too dangerous a thing; that an opponent’s subsequent willingness to negotiate might be faked, so let’s not teach him how to try?…
The risk that those who are taught will put otherwise innocent speech or knowledge to bad use is omnipresent, at least where that risk rests on little more than (even informed) speculation. Hence to accept this kind of argument without more and to apply it to the teaching of a subject such as international human rights law is to adopt a rule of law that, contrary to the Constitution’s text and First Amendment precedent, would automatically forbid the teaching of any subject in a case where national security interests conflict with the First Amendment.
It's not that the majority's concerns are unfounded. Any observer of international law is keenly aware that international law can and has been used as a tool of "lawfare" -- less to promote human rights protections and peaceful coexistence than to subvert these goals. But the dissent is considerably more right that it would be far more dangerous to prohibit speech simply because it could be used to promote ill-ends, prohibit training on peaceful coexistence because it could be used to sabotage the ideal. Whatever the shortcomings of the world's legal system -- and they are manifold -- it is one of the only clearly established alternatives to terrorist violence by NGOs, and thus it is clearly a benefit when NGOs and rebel groups adopt that approach above violent conflict.
The Supreme Court's decision is a massive triumph of despair over hope. And that's worrisome. Because no legal system predicated on individual rights can survive if our legal system defaults to fear.