US Supreme Court upholds curb on overseas AIDS funding

The court upheld rule that requires foreign affiliates of nonprofit groups to denounce prostitution and sex trafficking.

Supreme court
The US Supreme Court [File: Al Drago/Reuters]

The US Supreme Court has ruled that a 2003 law does not violate constitutional free speech rights by requiring overseas affiliates of American-based nonprofit groups that seek federal funding for HIV/AIDS relief to take a formal stance opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.

The 5-3 ruling on Monday, authored by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, represented a victory for President Donald Trump’s administration in its appeal of a lower court ruling in favour of the relief groups. The court’s five conservatives were in the majority. Three liberal justices dissented and one liberal justice, Elena Kagan, did not participate presumably because she worked on an earlier version of it when she served in the Justice Department before joining the court.

A man holding up his hand-painted with the words, ‘say no to AIDS’ during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign on the eve of World AIDS Day in Kolkata, India [File: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters] 

Organisations including the Alliance for Open Society International, Pathfinder International, InterAction and the Global Health Council challenged the provision as a violation of the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the court’s conservatives that “plaintiffs’ foreign affiliates are foreign organizations, and foreign organizations operating abroad possess no rights under the US Constitution”. 

The groups said the restrictions, part of a law enacted under Republican former President George W Bush, interfere with the ability to provide advice and counselling to sex workers about the risks of HIV infection.

The groups argued that to an ordinary person these organisations and their overseas affiliates that help carry out their work and are known by similar names are indistinguishable.

The case was the second time the justices weighed in on a federal programme that has spent nearly $80bn to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The plaintiffs obtained an injunction in 2006 preventing the policy from being enforced against them. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the law violated the free speech rights of the US-based groups but did not decide at that time whether applying it to their overseas partners also was unconstitutional.

Source: Reuters