Judge Anna J. Brown of the U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore., ruled Tuesday (June 24) the current procedures were unconstitutional and violated the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process.
The case stems from a 2010 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 13 Muslim plaintiffs who were not allowed to board a plane, but never told why.
Many Muslim Americans believe they are disproportionately targeted by the no-fly list, which has been found to include the names of many Americans with names similar to those of real terrorist suspects.
The ruling orders the government to tell the plaintiffs why they were on the list, and to give them an opportunity to challenge their inclusion before a judge.
The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the no-fly list, forwarded requests for comment to the Department of Justice, whose spokeswoman Dena Iverson said, “The department is reviewing the decision.”
“We hope this serves as a wake-up call for the government to fix its broken watch list system, which has swept up so many innocent people,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project and one of the lawyers who argued the case.
Sheikh Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye, imam at Masjed As-Saber, the largest mosque in Portland, said he looked forward to clearing his name in court.
“I have been prevented by the government from traveling to visit my family members and fulfill religious obligations for years, and it has had a devastating impact on all of us,” he said in a statement, referring to a trip he wanted to make to Dubai.
According to The Oregonian, seven men who attended prayer services at Masjed As-Saber were arrested in 2001 for planning to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Of the “Portland Seven,” six were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 18 years, while another member joined an al-Qaida cell but was killed by Pakistani forces in 2003.
There are an estimated 20,000 people on the no-fly list. People who want to get off the list must file a request with the Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. According to the ACLU, Homeland Security reply letters do not explain why boarding was denied, nor confirm or deny whether a person’s name remains on the list.
In January, a federal judge for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of a Malaysian Muslim woman who sued to find out why she was put on the no-fly list.
Omar Sacirbey is a Boston-based correspondent for Religion News Service and other publications.