Muslim Americans challenge ‘no fly’ list in appeals court

A panel of federal judges grilled Justice Department lawyers on Friday over the government’s “no-fly” list, questioning whether those barred from commercial air travel for suspected terrorism ties are given any realistic avenue for appeal.

Government attorneys were asked to defend the process as lawyers for 15 Muslims in the United States who have been placed on the no-fly list sought to reinstate their constitutional challenge of the airline security measure.

The plaintiffs, who are U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents, said they learned of their “no-fly” status when they were blocked from boarding a commercial flight without prior notice, and were later denied any effective means of petitioning the government to be removed from the list.

“They have been deprived of their rights without redress,” Nusrat Choudhury, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said in court, adding that her clients “want the opportunity to be heard before a decision-maker.”

A district court judge in Portland, Oregon, dismissed the original lawsuit, filed in June 2010, ruling the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. The ACLU then asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the case and decide the proper legal venue for it. Oral arguments on that request were heard on Friday.

The “no-fly” list, established in 2003 and administered by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, includes some 20,000 people deemed by the agency as known to have, or reasonably suspected of having, ties to terrorism. About 500 of them are U.S. citizens, according to an agency spokesman.

The plaintiffs, who are residents of Oregon and other states and include four veterans of the U.S. armed forces, deny any terrorism links. “None of the plaintiffs pose any threat to airline security,” Choudhury told Reuters before Friday’s hearing.

The no-fly restriction has kept the 15 plaintiffs from visiting family and traveling for work or study, and several apparently were added to the list while abroad, where they ended up stranded as a result.

Their suit argues that the government violated their constitutional rights to due process and the U.S. Administrative Procedures Act by failing to provide notice and the reasons for their inclusion on the list or any realistic procedure for contesting that status.

The ACLU is seeking to remove the plaintiffs from the list immediately or allow them a chance to clear their names. The group argues that those seeking to question or challenge their no-fly status are confined to a dead-end process in which they fill out a form and receive no actual explanation in return.

Reuters, 11 May 2012

See also ACLU Blog of Rights, 11 May 2012