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Supreme Court denies Cuba appeal by Florida academics

The US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal over a controversial law that prohibits professors, students and researchers at Florida’s public universities from travelling to Cuba and conducting research there.

The 2006 law, the Travel to Terrorist States Act, bans the use of state or private funds by universities in Florida to support academic travel to Cuba and other countries designated by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism, including Iran and Syria.

In March 2011 the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU-FL)—representing the faculty of Florida International University (FIU) and professors throughout Florida—asked the Supreme Court to review and rule on the constitutionality of the legislation.

On 25 June the Supreme Court denied an appeal of the law, which was sponsored by Republican Rep. David Rivera from Florida. Rivera called the court’s decision “a victory for Florida taxpayers” and noted that the Act had been passed unanimously by the Florida legislature and upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“By denying another appeal on this case, the Supreme Court sends a clear message that the Florida legislature, the people’s elected representatives, has the right to decide how the state’s taxpayer dollars are spent and how they should not be spent,” Rivera stated.

But ACLU-FL says the law has had a devastating effect on academic freedom in the state.

“The effect really has been to make it much harder to conduct research involving Cuba, which was the intent of the law’s sponsor,” said Randall Marshall, legal director for ACLU-FL and co-counsel on the Supreme Court case.

Marshall said the FIU Faculty Senate and individual Cuban scholars he represents have had their work “severely hampered” by the law. One of the plaintiffs has left FIU for a university in a different state in order to continue his research, he added.