No-Fly List Challenged By ACLU in Court

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit in Oregon challenging the United State government's secret "no-fly" list. In what they consider to be a "first of its kind" lawsuit, the ACLU is arguing that the list, which bars lawful residents and citizens from flying to and from the U.S. without any explanation or chance to clear their names, is a direct violation of the citizens' Fifth Amendment right to due process and consequently is unconstitutional.

The ACLU will be representing 15 American citizens who were placed on the no-fly list and were refused both an explanation and a hearing to clear their names. Of the 15, four are military veterans, including Ayman Latif, a disabled Marine veteran who cannot fly back to the U.S. and consequently cannot take a required veteran's disability evaluation, and Samir Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed, a U.S. citizen who went to visit his family in Yemen and now cannot come back home to the states. 

According to the case's brief, the plaintiffs are all American citizens who flew commercial airlines for years without incident until they were suddenly branded as suspected terrorists, although no evidence to support the claims were presented. They were publicly denied boarding on flights and were told by U.S. officials that they were likely to be banned from flying forever. 

The brief also argues that "The record indisputably shows that inclusion on the No Fly List is a draconian sanction: It severely burdens Plaintiffs’ liberty interest in travel, which is one of the basic incidents of modern life; it stigmatizes Plaintiffs, who have never been charged with any crime, as suspected terrorists; and it has resulted in devastating consequences for Plaintiffs’ personal and professional lives."

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, further argues that "In context after context, courts have held that Americans must have some notice and some hearing before they are deprived of their liberties ... That very basic fundamental position is what we are seeking to vindicate here, which is that once people have been put on the No-Fly list by the government they have a right to a notice of the fact that they are on the list, a statement of reasons why they are on the list and a hearing to contest their placement and to have the opportunity to get off the list."

And it isn't an unreasonable request. America's system of deciding who can and cannot fly is deeply broken and in need of major reforms. Post 9/11, thousands have been barred from U.S. skies because they share a name or part of a name with an individual who is actually supposed to be on the "no-fly" list. While security is of utmost importance, surely with today's technology, there must be a way to protect citizens without blatantly stripping them of their rights and liberties.

Moreover, there is no valid excuse for not providing those who are barred from flying commercially a reason, or a chance to clear their names. The Constitution simply does not permit such a deprivation of rights to be carried out under the veil of secrecy and it certainly does not allow for the absence of even the most rudimentary due process.