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Texas law on Israel boycotts is argued in court hearing on ACLU lawsuit

"Texas is trying to dictate Texans' viewpoint on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," an ACLU of Texas lawyer said.
Image: Texas AG Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton holds a joint press conference on February 18, 2015 with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, l, to address a Texas federal court's decision on the lawsuit filed by 26 states challenging President Obama's executive action on immigration. fileRobert Daemmrich Photography Inc / Corbis via Getty Images file

AUSTIN, Texas— A federal judge heard arguments Friday in a lawsuit that claims a Texas law requiring contractors to certify they do not boycott Israel violates the First Amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed the federal suit in December against state Attorney General Ken Paxton, two school districts and two universities. The organization argued the law forces people to choose between their First Amendment rights and their livelihoods.

"Texas is trying to dictate Texans' viewpoint on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the First Amendment fundamentally protects the right to participate in consumer boycott," ACLU of Texas attorney Thomas Buser-Clancy said.

The lawsuit claims the four plaintiffs bringing the suit have either lost "contracting opportunities" because they declined to sign the certification, or they signed "at the expense" of their First Amendment rights.

Marc Rylander, the attorney general's communication director, said in an emailed statement the law has no application to personal economic decisions but only to companies seeking to do business with the state.

"Our office demonstrated to the court that Texans - like the citizens of dozens of other states that have enacted similar laws — have every right to demand that their government does not do business with companies that engage in unjust discrimination," Rylander said.

Judge Robert Pitman also heard arguments for a speech language pathologist's lawsuit against Paxton and a school district over the law.

According to that suit, the woman was forced to end her contractual relationship with the district because she would not sign the certification.

Buser-Clancy said it is unclear when Pitman will rule on the case.