PORTLAND, Ore. – A judge has thrown out a suit against the U.S. Department of Justice and the government's no-fly list, saying an Oregon federal court does not have jurisdiction over the agency that administers the list.
The suit, filed in 2010 by 15 men barred from returning to the U.S., seeks to either remove the plaintiffs from the no-fly list or tell them why they are on it and, in some cases, allow them to return to the U.S.
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown agreed Thursday with an assertion from the Justice Department that her court lacked jurisdiction over the Transportation Security Administration.
Brown's ruling left open the opportunity for the plaintiffs to successfully argue that an appellate court should have jurisdiction over the TSA. The plaintiffs, including Portland imam Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye, have appealed the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Brown ruled for the Justice Department in two areas.
The department argued that the TSA is an "indispensable party" to the suit, whose absence from the lawsuit means the suit has to be thrown out. At the same time, the Justice Department argued that the TSA can't be included in the suit because orders from the TSA can only be argued in appellate court. Brown agreed.
The Justice Department also successfully argued that the court didn't have jurisdiction over the TSA's policies and procedures.
Brown said in her ruling that her determination came down to whether the ACLU and the plaintiffs were arguing against the men's placement on the no-fly list by the Terrorist Screening Center — which is run by the FBI — or arguing against TSA policies and procedures.
The Terrorist Screening Center would be subject to district court jurisdiction; the TSA is not.
"The overarching theme throughout (a plaintiff filing) is the inadequacy of TSA's ... procedures to have plaintiffs' names removed from any No Fly List," Brown wrote, "and not the placement of their names on such list, which is the only basis for district court jurisdiction."
The Justice Department did not return a call seeking comment Friday afternoon. The FBI has said it needs secrecy to protect sensitive investigations and to avoid giving terrorists clues for avoiding detection.
In a separate suit, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected the argument that a district court had jurisdiction over the TSA's policies and procedures while ruling that the Terrorist Screening Center was fair game.
The plaintiffs say the system of determining who should or should not be allowed to fly is broken, and has left people stranded as they travelled abroad.
One of the plaintiffs, Ayman Latif, is a disabled Marine Corps veteran and U.S. citizen who has been unable to return to the U.S. for his disability evaluation with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Born and raised in Miami, Latif is living in Egypt with his wife and two children.
The plaintiffs were specifically challenging the constitutionality of the no-fly list, saying it violates their due-process rights, and that the agency's actions are unlawful.
Latif filed a challenge through the online Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, or TRIP, asking that his name be taken off the list.
Reach reporter Nigel Duara at www.twitter.com/nigelduara