While folks in Congress and the Obama Administration grapple with whether or not to ease travel restrictions for Americans to Cuba, the State of Florida has found a unique way to block the use of public for travel to all state sponsors of terrorism. And a federal appeals court recently decided that the law was OK.
In a three judge panel decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled late last month that a 2006 Florida law restricting the use of public funds for travel to a “terrorist state” could be fully enforced. The ruling effectively blocks any employee at a state university from using public funds, or private funds moving through the university, from any activities involving travel to Cuba, Iran, Sudan, or Syria. The Florida education code states:
None of the state or nonstate funds made available to state universities may be used to implement, organize, direct, coordinate, or administer, or to support the implementation, organization, direction, coordination, or administration of, activities related to or involving travel to a terrorist state. For purposes of this section, “terrorist state” is defined as any state, country, or nation designated by the United States Department of State as a state sponsor of terrorism. Fla. Stat. § 1011.90(6).
One of the more interesting parts of the decision was the reversal of the District Court on the question of restricting the use of private funds moving through the university system. Arguing that such a restriction was preempted by federal law and violated the federal government’s foreign affairs power, the District Court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the Faculty Senate of Florida International University (FIU). The Court of Appeals disagreed: the “[Travel] Act’s brush with federal law and the foreign affairs of the United States is too indirect, minor, incidental, and peripheral to trigger the Supremacy Clause’s — undoubted — overriding power.” Faculty Senate of Florida International University, et. al. v. John Winn.
In summary, if you are a university professor you will need to pay for the trip out of pocket or raise the funds and plan the trip completely outside of the Florida education system. This likely means that such a trip would need to be planned off university grounds as using a university facility and equipment would be an activity that would involve the use of state funds (i.e., phone, electricity, computers, etc.). There is no incidental or personal use exception in the law.
Opponents of the measure, including the ACLU of Florida that filed the suit, argue that the Act, among other things, violates civil rights and freedom of speech. The law does no such thing. A majority of Florida taxpayers are not saying you cannot go to Cuba, Iran, Sudan, or Syria. They just do not want to pay for it if you do.
Here is the complete Appeals Court decision: