(WASHINGTON) — A unanimous Supreme Court on Friday dealt a setback to three Muslim Americans who are trying to sue the FBI for religious discrimination over surveillance in their place of worship after 9/11.
The narrow decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, reverses an appeals court decision that would have allowed the suit to move forward over claims by the government that doing so would risk disclosing secret and classified information.
Yassir Fazaga, a former imam at the Orange County Islamic Foundation, and Ali Uddin Malik and Yasser AbdelRahim, both members of the Islamic Center of Irvine, allege the government and its agents illegally targeted members of the faith communities solely because of their religion.
It’s the second endorsement by the court in as many days of the government’s sweeping state secrets power. On Thursday, the justices quashed a bid by a Guantanamo detainee to depose former CIA contractors about alleged torture at an agency black site.
Alito wrote that the decision does not shut the door on the case and that the men can return to the appeals court to challenge dismissal of the suit on state secrets grounds.
“We do not decide which interpretation is correct. Nor do we decide whether the Government’s evidence is privileged or whether the District Court was correct to dismiss respondents’ claims on the pleadings,” Alito wrote.
“According to [Fazaga, Malik and AbdelRahim], the state secrets privilege authorizes dismissal only where the case concerns a Government contract or where the very subject of the action is secret. The Government, by contrast, relies on lower court cases permitting dismissal in other circumstances,” he wrote for the majority. “The Ninth Circuit did not decide those questions, and we do not resolve them here.”
The FBI has acknowledged running a surveillance program at several Southern California mosques between 2006 and 2007 in a hunt for potential terrorists, but the Bureau has not publicly revealed the basis for its covert operation or directly addressed claims of religious bias.
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