Federal Judge: No-Fly List Violates Due Process (Updated)

Today is a good day in the courts: a federal judge in California has ruled in favor of Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim, the college professor who once left the country to go to a conference and, when she tried to come back, found out her visa was revoked and she was on the no-fly list.

For those not yet familiar, the no-fly list has, until now, been a tool to deprive the people of their rights without due process under the law. To get on the no-fly list, one is “nominated” by a fed in one of a handful of agencies, that nomination is processed by the FBI, and you’re on the list. Once you’re on the list, they won’t tell you you’re on the list — you just can’t get a boarding pass, ever. You’re (obviously) never told why you’re on the list, and never given a chance to challenge it. The government offers a form to fill out to request a review if you think you’re on the list, but there’s no process by which it is reviewed (that is, your form is basically memory-holed).

No judge is ever involved, and even for Dr. Ibrahim, the government fought every step of the way to avoid having a court even consider the matter (much like how my case against the TSA’s nude body scanners was delayed for 2 years while the government argued that a federal district court could not touch the issue). The government argued that questioning the no-fly list would reveal “state secrets” — information so sensitive that the executive branch has the right to withhold it even from closed-door review by a federal judge. So much for “the most transparent administration ever,” eh?

Nothing underscores the absurdity more than the fact that U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s ruling, save for the fact that it was in Dr. Ibrahim’s favor, has been sealed pending appeal. That is, the government argued that a ruling that the no-fly list is illegal would release classified information.

Thanks to Judge Alsup’s refusal to be bullied, this absurd practice comes to an end — pending review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Update: Judge Alsup has released a public summary of his ruling, explaining that the government made a mistake by adding Dr. Ibrahim to the list and must correct that mistake.

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