IJ Continues to Urge Supreme Court: Hold Government Officials Accountable for Violating Constitutional Rights

Arlington, Va.—On October 6 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument over whether officials from the FBI and other government agencies can be held accountable for violating Americans’ constitutional rights. The case, which was originally scheduled to be heard in March, is a unique opportunity for the Court to send a clear message to the FBI and other government agencies that they cannot trample on constitutional rights with impunity.

“It is a bedrock principle of American law that government officials are not above the law,” IJ Attorney Anya Bidwell explained. “In the 19th century, when federal agents violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, they could bring a damages claim. To argue that damages are not ‘appropriate relief’ for the violation of individual rights ignores hundreds of years of American legal history.”

In the case of Tanzin v. Tanvir[1], the FBI approached Muhammad Tanvir in 2007 and asked him to spy on his religious community. When Tanvir declined, the FBI repeatedly questioned him, harassed him, confiscated his passport, and placed him on the No-Fly List. Despite the absence of evidence that he was a threat to air safety, the government kept Tanvir on the list for years. His inability to fly during that time cost him his job as a long-haul trucker and prevented him from visiting his family, including his wife, son, and parents, who live abroad.

In 2013, Tanvir and several other men, who were also placed on the No-Fly List by retaliating government officials, filed a lawsuit. The men alleged that their placement on the No-Fly List in retaliation for their refusal to spy on their religious communities burdened their right to freely exercise their religion.

On the eve of an important court hearing, however, the government informed the plaintiffs that they had been removed from the No-Fly List and could once again fly. The government then argued that because the men had been removed from the list (albeit years after the fact) the lawsuit should be dismissed. Although the relevant statute provided the plaintiffs “appropriate relief” for what the government and its officials did, the government argued  that money damages were not “appropriate relief” because somehow there should be a presumption against damages in suits against the government.

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