Saturday, June 28, 2014

164.1 - Good News: no-fly list declared unconstitutional

Good News: no-fly list declared unconstitutional

We start, as I try to do every week, with some good news.

The no-fly list maintained by the US government has been what one writer accurately called a "Kafkaesque quagmire" ever since it was created in the wake of 9/11.

The list bans people suspected of some sort of link to terrorism from boarding flights of commercial airlines. The list is secret, there are no clear rules as to how a name gets placed on it, there is no way to know if you are on it except by trying to board a plane, and if you're on it, no way to find out when or why and essentially no way to challenge the listing.

Another secret is just how many people are on the list. As of last year, the FBI said it included some 20,000 people, including about 500 US citizens but there's no way to know if that's an accurate number or not: Consider that a year earlier, it was supposed to have 8,000-10,000 names.

Now, finally, over 12 years after it was created, some justice has been done. On June 24, US District Judge Anna Brown ruled that the no-fly list is unconstitutional because it gives those who discover they are on the list no meaningful way to contest that decision.

The ruling came in a case filed by the ACLU on behalf of 13 Muslim Americans, four of them US military veterans, who were branded with the no-fly status. Judge Brown ordered the government to come up with new procedures that allow people on the no-fly list to challenge that designation. She said:
The court concludes international travel is not a mere convenience or luxury in this modern world. Indeed, for many international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society.
Accordingly, on this record the court concludes plaintiffs inclusion on the no-fly list constitutes a significant deprivation of their liberty interests in international travel.
I should note that the feds insist that there is an adequate means of contesting the flight ban - but it's unwieldy and essentially ineffective.

Rahinah Ibrahim
Well, in that event, the feds claim, you can petition a US appeals court directly for relief.


The first person to successfully pursue that course was a former Stanford University student named Rahinah Ibrahim. It took nine years: The case started in 2005 and was concluded in January of this year. According to her lawyer, Elizabeth Marie Pipkin who with a team of laywers handled the case pro bono, it cost $300,000 in court costs and $3.8 million in legal fees covering some 11,000 hours of work and featured a sealed court decision with strange redactions.

So, yeah, "no meaningful way" to contest being on the list seems accurate.

Hopefully, Judge Brown's ruling will be  upheld on appeal. Now that would be really good news.

Sources cited in links:

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