SCOTUS Issues Ruling in No Fly List Case

( – The No Fly List is a list of people that the federal government forbids from boarding an airplane in the US. The record is kept by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center and contains information on suspected or known terrorists, though the actual reason one is added isn’t generally disclosed. Tens of thousands of names are believed to be on it. One US citizen, a Muslim man, was placed on the list and sued the government. The Supreme Court has now issued a ruling in the case.

The Lawsuit

In 2013, Yonas Fikre sued the FBI, alleging it put him on the No Fly List as an act of retaliation, violating his civil rights and due process. The allegations date back to 2009, when Fikre, an American citizen living in Portland, Oregon, flew to Sudan, where he lived as a child, to explore business opportunities.

While there, he says he was invited to the US Embassy for lunch, and accosted by FBI agents. There, he found out he was placed on the No Fly List, but for his cooperation, the agency would remove his name. Agents questioned Fikre about the mosque he attended in Portland, and asked him to serve as an informant, which he refused.

He then flew to the United Arab Emirates, where he claims he was detained and tortured for more than 100 days, before being flown to Sweden. He remained in the Scandinavian country for years, until 2015. While there, in 2013, he filed the lawsuit. In 2015, he was flown home by private jet. Then a year later, the government notified him that he had been removed from the No Fly List. At this point, they told him his lawsuit was moot and subsequently tried to have the case dismissed.

Supreme Court Opinion

The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, March 19, found that the government failed to show that Fikre’s case is moot. All of the nine justices unanimously agreed that the case should move forward, arguing that simply removing the plaintiff’s name from the list doesn’t negate the action in the first place.

In the opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that the decision “is a provisional one,” but defendants can’t render a lawsuit moot by “the simple expedient of suspending its challenged conduct after it is sued.”

In other words, the government can’t render the case moot simply because they removed Fikre from the list, knowing that they could do it again in the future should Fikre do “the same or similar things in the future.” According to the Court, it can only be done “if the defendant can show that the practice cannot be reasonably expected to recur.” Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito wrote a brief concurring opinion noting that the judgment doesn’t “suggest that the government must disclose classified information” to the respondent, his lawyers, or the court to prove their case.

With the ruling, the lawsuit can now move forward.

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