The Supreme Court of the United States has heard the arguments case including three Muslim men from California who criticized the FBI for illegally monitoring them following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The country’s highest court has been asked to rule on whether to allow the men’s case to continue in the FBI’s case, which has ruled that it cannot be prosecuted for religious discrimination, which could expose government secrets.
The point is that if the US Surveillance Act of 1978, which establishes domestic spy laws for the American people, removes the judge-made theory of state secrecy and provides valid reasons for the men’s case to be heard.
American Muslims across the US have accused the FBI of deliberately violating their legal rights by spying on them after 9/11, but there has been little opportunity to challenge the FBI’s actions in court because they took place in secret.
Conservative Supreme Court Judge Neil Gorsuch on Monday questioned the US government’s claim that the FBI should be allowed to dismiss the case and keep its evidence confidential.
“In a country where national security is growing by the day, that’s power,” Gorsuch said.
The case dates back to 14 months in 2006 and 2007 when the FBI paid intelligence detective Craig Monteilh to gather more Muslim information as part of a 9/11 anti-terrorism investigation.
Monteilh met Muslims in southern California, took a Muslim name and said he wanted to convert to Islam, according to court papers, and record interviews and reviews.
Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, imam of the Orange County Islamic Foundation in Mission Viejo, and Ali Uddin Malik and Yasser Abdelrahim, both gathered at the Islamic Center of Irvine in Irvine, California, brought the case.
The men, represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and others, claimed to be religiously discriminated against and to have violated certain rights, claiming that they and hundreds of others hated them for their religious beliefs.
The U.S. District Court dismissed the case after the U.S. government ruled that allowing it to continue could expose “government secrets”, acknowledging that continuing the case “would be a serious risk of disclosure.”
But the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed the decision in 2019, arguing that the lower court should have secretly reviewed what the government said was state secrets.
The Biden government, like Trump’s predecessors before, said the idea was wrong.
On Monday, some Supreme Court judges also questioned the FBI’s claim that the case could not be allowed to continue because of government secrecy.
Justice Stephen Breyer said it would not be long before the case was dismissed without the trial judge having the opportunity to review further documents related to the case. “My point is that there has to be a way to see more … and decide what to do,” said Breyer, a judge.
Ahilan Arunlanathan, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, who defended the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the FBI could not use its secrets to settle the case.
Instead, Arunlanathan told the jury that the case should be allowed to continue even if FBI information is not kept secret in court. “Congress or common law does not allow for the removal and concealment of evidence,” he said.
But Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared to be saddened by the FBI’s secrecy. “This kind of information, depending on the content, is not something you want to keep, even in the White House,” said Kavanaugh, a law enforcement official.
However, the suspicions of Gorsuch and other judges on state grounds left the plaintiffs’ in expectation “of the court’s ruling, said ACLU lawyer Patrick Toomey, who represents three Muslim men.
“They have a good understanding of the main issues in the case, including those at risk where the government can ask for a secret just to dispel allegations of religious discrimination,” Toomey told Al Jazeera.
“It showed that the judges are trying to agree on how the case should be handled,” Toomey said.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the matter by the end of June.
“We sincerely hope that the Supreme Court will allow our client to faithfully advance in the protection of religious freedom of the Constitution,” Arunlanathan said at a press conference on Monday.
“He had a lot of difficult questions on both sides. Now let’s wait and hope he sees a fair path,” he said.