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An estimated 47,000 people are currently on the government's 'No Fly List,' including 800 U.S. citizens. (Photo: MarkJH/cc/flickr)

An estimated 47,000 people are currently on the government's 'No Fly List,' including 800 U.S. citizens. (Photo: MarkJH/cc/flickr)

Americans Win Right to Challenge Inclusion on Government's Secret 'No Fly List'

Court ruling seen as a victory against racial profiling, specifically for Arab-Americans

Lauren McCauley

A federal court on Monday ruled that a Michigan man can challenge his inclusion on the government's "No Fly List," in a move that is being celebrated as a victory for the hundreds of U.S. citizens assigned to that secretive list, as well as the countless Arab-Americans routinely subjected to similar racial profiling.

Reversing a previous district court ruling, Circuit Judge Julia Smith Gibbons ordered (pdf) "further proceedings" in the case of Saeb Mokdad, a Lebanese-American who since September 2012 has been prohibited three times from boarding a plane to visit his family in Lebanon.

The Arab-American Civil Rights League (ACRL), which is defending Mokdad, argues that his placement on the list is unconstitutional, and that the government must provide an explanation as to why he is included on the Terrorist Screening list and allow for a "meaningful opportunity" to contest his status. The suit specifically singles out the U.S. Attorney General, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), which is charged with placing people on the list.

Gibbons also ruled that a district court does have the authority to decide on such a case, which as Salon reporter Ben Norton notes, "establish[es] a precedent for courts throughout the country."

There are currently as many as 47,000 people currently on the U.S. government's "No Fly List," according to documents leaked to The Intercept last year, including 800 Americans.

Mokdad's attorney, Nabih Ayad, said following the court ruling, "Today is a good day for our Constitution, a good day for Arab-Americans, and a good day for justice across this nation." Ayad added that the ruling confirms the ACRL's belief that "the unwarranted and unconstitutional profiling of an entire group of people simply based on their ethnicity must be struck down as a violation of this nation’s highest law: the Constitution."

He continued, "By issuing today’s ruling, the U.S. Sixth Circuit has dealt a huge blow against the continued and unjustifiable intimidation and harassment by the federal government against Arab-Americans."

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