Posted by Tess Waggoner on March 21, 2019 in Blog


On Wednesday, March 20, 2019 AAI’s Policy Counsel Ryan Suto was in Tuscon, Arizona to testify at the 
House Committee on State and International Affairs hearing on SB 1167 in the Arizona House of Representatives. He provided testimony and answered questions for committee members, arguing that SB 1167 is a bill which ultimately seeks to prohibit and restrict the free expression of Arizonans, a clear violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

The bill now must go through the Rules Committee before it will proceed to a full vote in the Arizona House. 

Background 

In 2016, the state of Arizona passed HB 2617, a bill that was found unconstitutional by the District Court. That bill has been resurrected this session, with minor tweaks to the language that do little to soften concerns about its potential to suppress the free speech rights of Arizonans.  

Nonethelessthe bill passed the Arizona Senate on February 13, 2019, and was referred to committee in the House. But as AAI explained in a letter to the Speaker on March 5, 2019,  

“is simply HB 2617 with minor edits. In striking HB 2617 the District Court wrote, ‘A restriction of one’s ability to participate in collective calls to oppose Israel unquestionably burdens the protected expression of companies wishing to engage in such a boycott.’ That burden on protected expression remains at the core of SB 1167. Nonetheless, SB 1167 tries to side-step this fundamental flaw by eliminating mentions of “compliance with or adherence to calls for a boycott of Israel…” and limiting the application to companies of certain sizes and contracts of certain amounts. 

But supporters of SB 1167 mistake the tree for the forest: regardless of whether the statute acknowledges that companies may participate in a global call to boycott Israel, in reality that context exists and companies are responding to it, as was recognized by the District Court’s discussion of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) Movement. The functional result of SB 1167 is no different than what HB 2617 would have been, which is why its supporters have introduced it with minor edits, and why it too would be struck down by the judiciary if enacted by Arizona. Further, SB 1167’s change of application to a smaller subset of companies from those originally covered by HB 2617 cures no Constitutional infirmary; any interpretation to the contrary would construe the protections of the First Amendment too narrowly by allowing some legal entities Constitutional protections but denying them to others based on arbitrary numerical state definitions.” 

The Hearing  

During his testimony, AAI Policy Counsel Ryan Suto addressed the broad concerns many in our communities and coalitions express about restricting the right to boycott, which he described as a fundamental form of political expression in America. He addressed Committee questions about changes to the bill’s language and forcefully spoke against the intimation by one member of the Committee that tweaks to the language of the bill eliminated free speech concerns, saying, “You are correct, implementation does not allow this to impact organizations which have 9 or fewer employees, but organizations which have 10 or more employees are due First Amendment protections as well.” 

Ryan was not alone in speaking out against the legislation at the hearing. Other Arab American community leaders testified as well, emphasized the importance of boycotts as a form of non-violent political expression both in U.S. history, and across the world in key human rights struggles over the last century. They were joined by a crowd of community leaders, activists and concerned citizens who packed the hearing room to listen to and support testimony in opposition to the bill. 

At the end of the hearing, the Committee voted 6-3 for SB 1167 to proceed, which means our work is not over. 

What You Can Do 

If you live in Arizona, click here to send a letter to your member of the Arizona House of Representatives opposing SB 1167. AAI is closely following the anti-boycott legislative measures being pursued not just in Arizona, but across the country.  

Are you aware of anti-boycott measures being considered in your state? Let’s connect.

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