SCOTUS Makes Decision On Case Aimed At The FBI Over Surveillance

This past Monday, the Justices of the Supreme Court went over the oral arguments for a suit from a Muslim community targeting the FBI.

CBS News reported recently, “The Supreme Court on Monday grappled with whether to allow a case brought by three Muslim men against the FBI to proceed, with the men arguing the federal government targeted them and their Southern California community for surveillance based on their religion.”

The oral arguments took place over a period of two hours and reportedly led the justices to indicate that they may be putting forward a narrow decision.

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The news sources made note that a federal appeals court allowed the issue to be brought up by the men to go forward, and members of the federal government were pushing the supreme court to consider that a possible ruling.

“The case, which was brought against the bureau and five agents in 2011, turns on whether a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) displaces the state-secrets privilege, which was invoked by the federal government in seeking to block the suit,” reported CBS News.

As explained by Ballotpedia concerning the case:

Three residents of Southern California who practice Islam filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. district court against the U.S. government, alleging that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) paid a confidential informant to surveil Muslims based solely on their religious identity for more than a year as part of a counterterrorism investigation, and that the program included unlawful searches and anti-Muslim discrimination. The U.S. government asserted the state-secrets privilege and moved to dismiss the case. The district court dismissed all but one of the plaintiffs’ claims. On appeal, the 9th Circuitaffirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. 

The question put forth is, “Whether Section 1806(f) displaces the state-secrets privilege and authorizes a district court to resolve, in camera and ex parte, the merits of a lawsuit challenging the lawfulness of government surveillance by considering the privileged evidence.”

“The problem is that now the government takes a much stronger view of what state-secrets doctrine is,” stated Justice Neil Gorsuch to Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler, who was taking the stance of arguing in favor of the FBI.

Gorsuch went on to note that there is a “pretty good argument” towards the idea that the federal government was utilizing the state-secrets entitlement “as a means to dismiss the case.”

A question was then put forth by Justice Stephen Breyer, “A plaintiff sues government officials and says: You have unlawfully been wiretapping or surveying, whatever. OK? The government goes back and says: Judge, we have a good reason for doing that wiretapping, and we don’t want to tell people what it is. Doesn’t the judge — shouldn’t he still look to see if they’re right?”

“My point,” he stated at a later time, “is there should be a way to look at the information for the court and decide what to do.”

As reported by Ballotpedia, “The Supreme Court began hearing cases for the term on October 4, 2021. The court’s yearly term begins on the first Monday in October and lasts until the first Monday in October the following year. The court generally releases the majority of its decisions in mid-June.”

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