This is a busy time for the Supreme Court: yesterday alone, it overturned significant portions of Arizona’s SB 1070 (which asserted states’ authority to regulate immigration); it ruled that sentencing teenagers younger than 18 to a mandatory life sentence for crimes is unconstitutional; and it overturned Montana’s campaign finance laws, thereby sustaining its 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case; and all this has happened on the first day, before the court issued its ruling on the Affordable Care Act, a ruling that should come later this week.
However, these were not the only rulings that emerged from the court yesterday. SCOTUS also refused to listen to a challenge to a Florida law that restricts universities and colleges from traveling to “terrorist states,” including Cuba. The Florida law said that state money could be refused for people researching states that “sponsor terrorism,” a vague umbrella category used to isolate any so-called “enemies” of the United States. By refusing to take the case, the Florida law will stand, and other states that want to limit public funding to states categorized under the vague umbrella of sponsoring “terrorism” can follow suit now, with little recourse for academics and researchers.
To be clear, currently, this ruling isn’t going to set back research on Cuba – as the article points out, it just means Florida can legislate state laws that ban public money being used for research. At least for now, the result is, as Howard Simon of Florida’s ACLU puts it, is that “research is not going to end. It will just be done by universities elsewhere outside of Florida, […] It will keep us in an enforced state of ignorance.'” And that’s true – if Texas, New Mexico, New York, etc. want to use their state public funds to fund research (which, it shouldn’t need to be said, is not always or even generally sympathetic to Cuba), they can. Nonetheless, the fact that the Supreme Court won’t even consider the case leaves open the possibility that other states can legislate funding to prevent research on so-called “enemies,” a possibility that is not only a blow to academic freedom and to understanding the world in which we live; it’s also a powerful reminder of the ongoing undue influence a small percentage of US citizens in Florida still exercise on the country.