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Texas cannot ban an engineering company from boycotting Israel under its contract with Houston City Hall, a federal judge has ruled.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen failed to completely block a state law that bars government agencies from doing business with certain companies that boycott Israel. But its ruling said A&R Engineering and Testing Inc.’s free speech rights would be violated if its contract with the city included a clause that the company would refrain from such a boycott. Hanen also said Texas could not enforce its law against the company or the city.
A&R Engineering and Testing Inc. is represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. At a press conference on Monday, the organization welcomed Hanen’s decision but still pushed for the state’s anti-boycott law to be overturned.
“He recognized that this pro-Palestinian view is protected by the First Amendment,” said CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas. “It may seem like small crumbs, but it’s a controversial take, and it’s a blessing.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from disputes over the occupation and control of lands claimed by Israelis and Palestinians. Conservative lawmakers in Texas have largely taken a pro-Israel stance.
Texas is one of more than two dozen states with laws aimed at limiting boycotts, divestments and sanctions on Israel for its treatment of Palestine, actions often referred to as the pro-Palestinian BDS movement.
The Texas Attorney General’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed Friday’s ruling to the 5th United States Circuit Court of Appeals, known as the one of the most conservative appeals courts in the country.
According to the lawsuit, in October A&R entered into a renewal contract with Houston when it was required to certify that it would not boycott Israel for the duration of the contract. The company asked the city to remove the stipulation from the contract, but the city refused, citing state law.
In court documents, the City of Houston said it would follow state law, but took no position on its constitutionality.
Texas passed an anti-BDS law in 2017. In 2019, it was rewritten to exclude individual contractors and only apply to businesses with 10 or more full-time employees and when the contract is $100,000 or more.
Before the law was rewritten, a federal court temporarily blocked the original law statewide in a lawsuit involving a speech pathologist who worked in the Pflugerville Independent School District. In that case, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the law suppressed “unpopular ideas” and manipulated “public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.”