No-fly list lawsuit headed back to district court

In 2010, a lawsuit was filed against the FBI on behalf of 15 Muslim men who arbitrarily were placed on a secret no-fly list. Their presence on this list means that, due to suspected terrorist affiliations, they are not allowed to fly in U.S. airspace. If they want to go visit their relatives abroad, they must take a boat.

The men challenged the FBI, claiming that their constitutional right to due process was violated. They were not told why they were on the list, nor were they given an opportunity to challenge the FBI's decision. Some complex litigation between both parties followed.

The case first appeared before a federal district judge, who dismissed the case, citing lack of jurisdiction. Now, two years later, a federal appeals panel has ordered the case back to federal district court, as it seems the original judge made a mistake.

Her decision to dismiss was based on the absence of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which she deemed a critical party, in the lawsuit. According to Congress, only an appeals court, not a district court, can order the TSA to appear. As a result, the district court judge dismissed the case. The appeals panel, however, ruled that district courts are allowed to order the TSA to be included in the lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who argued the appeal on behalf of the plaintiffs, is calling the appeals panel's decision a victory for all Americans. This is the first time, they say, that the federal government has been forced to defend the validity of its no-fly list protocol. Given the fact that none of the 15 plaintiffs has ever been charged with a terrorism-related crime, perhaps an evaluation of the process is needed.

Source: oregonlive.com, "No-fly list lawsuit should proceed in federal court in Portland, appeals panel rules," Helen Jung, July 26, 2012

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