High Court Upholds "Material Support" Terror Law

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Updated 11:01 a.m. ET

The Supreme Court has upheld a federal law that bars "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations, rejecting a free speech challenge from humanitarian aid groups.

The court ruled 6-3 Monday that the government may prohibit all forms of aid to designated terrorist groups, even if the support consists of training and advice about entirely peaceful and legal activities.

Material support intended even for benign purposes can help a terrorist group in other ways, Chief Justice John Roberts said in his majority opinion.

"Such support frees up other resources within the organization that may be put to violent ends," Roberts said.

Justice Stephen Breyer took the unusual step of reading his dissent aloud in the courtroom. Breyer said he rejects the majority's conclusion "that the Constitution permits the government to prosecute the plaintiffs criminally" for providing instruction and advice about the terror groups' lawful political objectives. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor joined the dissent.

The case was Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

In other opinions released Monday:

The court lifted a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa seeds, despite claims they might harm the environment.

In a 7-1 decision, the court reversed a federal appeals court ruling that prohibited Monsanto Co. from selling alfalfa seeds that are resistant to the popular weed killer Roundup. Justice Stephen Breyer took no part in the case.

In Kawasaki v. Regal Beloit, the court ruled that the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act - which governs liability issues for shipping companies - does not apply to shipments that originated overseas under a single through bill of landing.

Read Monday's Supreme Court opinions:

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (08-1498)
Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms (09-475)
Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. v. Regal-Beloit Corp. (08-1553)
Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson (09-497)

The court also said it will allow a new trial in the case of a woman who got breast cancer after taking hormone replacement therapy and is seeking punitive damages against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

The justices rejected Wyeth's attempt to block the trial because it is to be limited to punitive damages. Wyeth also wanted the high court to throw out $2.75 million compensatory damages that the woman, Donna Scroggin, won after suing Wyeth and Upjohn Co., another drugmaker. Both companies now are owned by Pfizer Inc.

A jury also awarded Scroggin $27 million in punitive damages after concluding that Wyeth inadequately warned her that its drugs Premarin and Prempro carried an increased risk of breast cancer.

A federal judge struck down the punitive damages award, saying certain testimony from former Food and Drug Administration official Dr. Suzanne Parisian, who was the plaintiff's regulatory expert, shouldn't have been allowed at trial.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ordered the partial retrial, limited to punitive damages.