Supreme Court Wrestling with Case Involving Muslims and FBI Surveillance

Bob Korn /
Bob Korn /

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday for a case that involves a Muslim community and the FBI. CBS News reported that the Supreme Court wrestled with whether or not to allow a case brought by three Muslim men against the FBI to proceed. The Muslim men argued that the federal government targeted them along with their Southern California community for surveillance. They believe this move was solely based on their religion.

The arguments in the high court lasted for over two hours and the justices appeared to be ready to put forward a narrow decision.

The news outlet also noted that a federal appeals court allowed the case brought by the Muslim men to go forward. They wrote that the federal government wanted the Supreme Court to consider the ruling.

CBS News reported, “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.”

The case details were explained by Ballotpedia, which stated that three residents of Southern California who practice Islam filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. district court. The suit was against the U.S. government and it alleged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) paid a confidential informant to surveil Muslims based only on their religious identity. This took place for more than a year as a part of a  counterterrorism investigation. The program included unlawful searches and anti-Muslim discrimination.

The U.S. government maintained that the issues were state-secret privilege and moved to dismiss the case. The district court dismissed all the plaintiff’s claims but one. There was an appeal, and the 9th Circuit affirmed in part and they reversed in part the district court’s judgment. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

The Supreme Court is now facing this question, “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.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch told Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler, who was arguing for the FBI, that the problem is that the government is now taking a much stronger view of what the state-secrets doctrine actually is.

Justice Gorsuch also said that there was a “pretty good argument” that the federal government was using the state-secrets privilege as a way to dismiss the case.

Justice Stephen Breyer asked this question, ”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?”

Justice Breyer later noted that there should be a way to look at the information and have the court decide what to do.

Ballotpedia explained that the Supreme Court started to hear the cases for the term on October 4, 2021. But the court usually releases the majority of their decisions by mid-June.

The Supreme Court heard another case this week regarding the execution of an inmate. The Daily Wire reported in September that the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the execution of a man on death row because of his desire to have his pastor lay hands on him and say prayers as he died. But his request was not fulfilled by the prison.