Why the odious no-fly list is now a constitutional no-go

Why the odious ‘no-fly’ list is now a constitutional no-go

7 Comments

Amir came into my law firm office about a year ago. An educated, pleasant American citizen of Persian descent, he supported his wife and kids by operating a small marketing business from his southern California home. To stay connected to his family members back home in Iran, he occasionally visited his home country. Whenever he did, he was stopped by TSA, taken into a back room, and often detained for hours. His phone and computers were searched without his consent. He was accused of being a terrorist, though he had no criminal history whatsoever. He would often miss his flights. The last time, his young son was present and watched his father being humiliated by agents of the U.S. government.

Amir, of course, is not his real name. Scared, he remains in the shadows. He told me he was terrified to even complain about this, because the government would surely become even more vindictive against him. What might they do next? In researching the matter, my associates and I discovered, to our disgust, that there was really nothing that Amir could do. He was obviously on the no-fly list – he’d even been told that by one TSA agent. But he had next to no options for redress. He could file a complaint with the government, but it had no obligation to give him a hearing, or even confirm that he was on the no-fly list or why. He couldn’t correct the mistake. Most in the Muslim American community felt that complaining made matters worse.

That’s why this week’s ruling by a federal court in Oregon is so important. In the first ruling squarely on the subject, Judge Anna Brown reviewed the shameful manner in which the government has put people on this secret list – without affording them the bedrock constitutional right to a hearing to defend themselves and correct government mistakes – and ruled the system unconstitutional. The government now has a few weeks to come up with fairer procedures.

The government argued that while we all have a constitutional right to travel, no particular right to travel by plane existed – people like Amir could always take a boat or car. Really? To Iran? Are we living in the 19th century? In the case, one of the plaintiffs, unable to board a flight back to the U.S. from Colombia, had to travel for twelve long days to get back to his American family.  Judge Brown sensibly observed that “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.”

Kudos to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has fought this protracted legal battle since 2010, and to the 13 Muslim American plaintiffs – four of them veterans – who endured to get this victory. They did it for themselves but also for the Amirs among us, who must be granted equal rights and dignity.

In the weeks to come, Amir and tens of thousands of others on the no-fly list will be watching to be sure that the government complies with this decision. With this change in the law, civil rights lawyers like me will now be able to fight for the constitutional rights of Muslim Americans.

Stigmatizing and demeaning an entire ethnic group because of the bad acts of a few of its members is the very definition of racism. Secret lists that interfere with the lives of innocent Americans reek of the McCarthy era. In his final speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “All we say to America is be true to what you said on paper.” Judge Brown’s ruling moves us in that direction.

Photo Credit: Arina P Habich / Shutterstock.com

Lisa Bloom, Avvo Legal Analyst

About 

Lisa Bloom is the founder and managing partner of The Bloom Firm, a civil and criminal general practice law firm. Admitted to practice in all state and federal courts of California and New York, Lisa partners with local attorneys nationwide to bring justice to clients all over the U.S.

Lisa Bloom is a legal analyst for Avvo.com and NBC News, and the author of three books, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness and Thug Culture, and SUSPICION NATION: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It.

7 Comments

  1. john / September 5, 2014 at 2:33 am / Reply

    He must be a kennedy

  2. john / September 5, 2014 at 2:30 am / Reply

    I dont know amir but if he is on a no fly list its for a reason. And i dont care why. All i know is if n when i fly i dont want so retard trying to take my plane. Your the retards who keep idiots like that free to roam around america. Let the government do their job. Sit down and stfu already

  3. Kathy Lowe / July 3, 2014 at 9:28 am / Reply

    I have a friend who disappeared last Sept.19 2013 and has not been found. She is a mother of 3 young children, she was going through a divorce and met a married bussinessman, she became pregnant and had a baby girl, March, 2013. He was the last to see her and no one has found out anything, the police have came up with nothing, his attorney is the best money can buy. He has her baby and won’t let her family see their grand daughter. He is in his 60’s and she is 28 now. Their was another young girl who burnt up in a motel fire 3 yrs. ago, she was his girlfriend, he rented the room in which she would die. Her family has tried to reach out to the media, to know avail. He knows that her family doesnt have the money to hire an attorney, what worries me is the thought that 2 young women are gone and he has the baby. I love Lisa bloom and her mother, we need this to go viral. Sincerely, Cathy

    • Danielle Post
      Danielle Post / July 3, 2014 at 3:49 pm / Reply

      Hi Cathy, I’m so sorry to hear about this situation. It sounds like you have legal questions that would be best answered by an attorney. Attorneys provide advice in Avvo’s free Q&A forum, usually within the first day or two of posting. All questions are open to answers for seven days. You can post your questions here when you’re ready: http://www.avvo.com/ask-a-lawyer. If you decide to hire an attorney, you can locate one in your area using Avvo’s Legal Directory, here: http://www.avvo.com/find-a-lawyer. You can search by practice area as well as location to find one close to you. Many offer free consultations, so be sure to ask if you decide to contact them on your own or through Avvo. I hope this information is helpful and very best of luck in your search. Kindly, Danielle

  4. Barbara Graham / July 1, 2014 at 12:52 pm / Reply

    Liked your “No Fly” article. Although I know our constitution is supposed to protect us all, the recent decisions by our Supreme Court make me doubt that it does. It appears to be so politically biased at this point, I no longer believe our system will protect me or anyone else! I guess interpretation is their job, but when the majority of our citizens do not agree with their interpretation, what is our recourse?

  5. Mark Franco / July 1, 2014 at 8:16 am / Reply

    being hassled by a building inspector who says I have to much metal in my yard hassled me two years ago in same town different location what cani do is he allowed to come in my back yard when I am not home

    • Danielle Post
      Danielle Post / July 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm / Reply

      Hi Mark, it sounds like you have a legal question that would be best answered by an attorney in our free Q&A forum. Attorneys do not provide advice through our blog, but they do in the forum — usually within the first day or two of posting. All questions are open to answers for seven days. You can post your questions here when you’re ready: http://www.avvo.com/ask-a-lawyer. Avvo also offers a wealth of legal information in our Knowledge Base here: http://www.avvo.com/free-legal-advice. I hope this is helpful! Kindly, Danielle

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