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Supreme Court Unanimously Sides Against Government in ‘No Fly List’ Case

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The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a man’s lawsuit challenging his placement on the federal government’s “No Fly List” can proceed, finding that the government did not prove the case was moot after removing him from the list.

Yonas Fikre, a U.S. citizen, claimed the FBI unlawfully placed him on the list and pressured him to become an informant.

While the government argued Fikre’s removal meant the case was moot, the Court rejected this view, allowing the merits of the allegations to be examined in lower courts.

“Necessarily, our judgment is a provisional one,” Justice Neil Gorsuch stated.

“Just because the government has not yet demonstrated that Mr. Fikre’s case is moot does not mean it will never be able to do so,” he added. “This case comes to us in a preliminary posture, framed only by uncontested factual allegations and a terse declaration. As the case unfolds, the complaint’s allegations will be tested rather than taken as true, and different facts may emerge that may call for a different conclusion.”

Justice Gorsuch’s opinion acknowledged that further facts could still lead to a mootness conclusion later.

This initial ruling permits judicial scrutiny of the government’s national security policies while avoiding compelled disclosure of classified information, balancing security and due process considerations.

“A case does not automatically become moot when a defendant suspends its challenged conduct and then carries on litigating for some specified period,” Gorsuch said. “Nor can a defendant’s speculation about a plaintiff’s actions make up for a lack of assurance about its own. (For that matter, given what little we know at this stage in the proceedings, Mr. Fikre may have done none of the things the government presumes he has, perhaps wishing to but refraining for fear of finding himself relisted.)”

“In at least some instances, requiring the Government to disclose sensitive information regarding its grounds for placing or removing a person from the No-Fly List could undermine the Government’s significant interests in airline safety and the prevention of terrorist attack,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote.

Fikre’s attorneys welcomed the decision, which allows their client to seek further legal recourse after experiencing alleged harassment abroad linked to his placement on the list.

“We are proud to have helped Mr. Fikre secure justice through this unanimous US Supreme Court decision,” attorneys Lindsay Harrison and Annie Kastanek stated.

“Mr. Fikre was unconstitutionally placed on the No Fly List and stranded overseas for four years, and today’s victory underscores that the government cannot evade review of its national security policies by selectively mooting out cases,” they added.

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