However, it remains to be seen whether the three plaintiffs can challenge the ingrained doctrine of qualified immunity that protects most officials from lawsuits.
The US Supreme Court has found that three Muslim men placed on the national no-fly list after refusing to spy on their fellow worshipers can sue FBI agents and officials for damage incurred under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act are.
According to National Public Radio, the case titled Tanzin v. Tanvir after plaintiffs alleged officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to harass them in order to become informants.
Attorney Ramzi Kassen, who represents all three men, said the no-fly list was and was problematic because it combined “enormous power with an almost total lack of transparency.”
Since it is generally difficult for people on the no-fly list to both determine why they were placed on the list and to object to their placement, certain people generally have no way of accessing it.
NPR notes that none of the plaintiffs were suspected of engaging in illegal activities. In fact, Obama-era officials tried to remove their names from the no-fly list just before the case was brought to court.
But the government’s concession did little to convince the men to drop their case.
Naveed Shinwari, one of the three plaintiffs, said he was extremely happy that the Supreme Court would move his case forward.
“I am very happy and satisfied. Praise be to Allah. This is a great victory for every voiceless Muslim and non-Muslim against hatred and oppression and […] I hope this is a warning to the FBI and other agencies that they will be held responsible for […] Traumatize people and ruin their lives, ”Shinwari said.
Shinwari, says NPR, came to the US from Afghanistan when he was 14. He later took a job as a manufacturing company – a position that required frequent domestic flights.
TSA officers scan bags at an airport. Image via Wikimedia Commons / Thanks TSA / Department of Homeland Security. Public domain.
After Shinwari was placed on the no-fly list, he was unable to do his job or visit his wife, who at the time was still living in Afghanistan. She has since moved to the United States
Tanzin v. Tanvir is notable not only for plaintiffs’ suffering, but also for challenging a concept known as qualified immunity. Under the qualified immunity doctrine, government employees typically cannot be sued if they work in accordance with their expected duties.
Although the Supreme Court admitted the case, the judges have not indicated whether a qualified immunity can relieve the defendant FBI agents from civil liability.
However, Vox’s analysis of the judges’ unanimous decision suggests that the Supreme Court is open – at least in theory – to allowing civil rights claimants to sue state and federal officials who violate the Constitution and place undue burden on an individual’s religious beliefs.
Interestingly, Vox suggests that the ruling passed by a largely conservative bank could easily be manipulated by religious fundamentalists of all faiths and denominations to crack down on existing government restrictions.
Muslim men on the no-fly list have the right to sue the FBI, says the US Supreme Court
The Supreme Court gives a loss to rogue law enforcement officers – and a gain to religious law
The Supreme Court says Muslim men can sue FBI agents on a no-fly list