March 20, 2024

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling allowing CAIR’s lawsuit challenging the federal No Fly List on behalf of Yonas Fikre to move forward over the government’s objection as a “historic milestone for Muslims.”

This case marked the first time that CAIR argued directly before the U.S. Supreme Court

Yonas Fikre is an American Muslim who was tortured and imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates at the behest of American officials and then stranded in Sweden because of his status on the No Fly List after he refused pressure from the FBI to become an informant.

The government took Fikre off the list after CAIR filed suit and tried to argue that Fikre’s case was moot to avoid the threat of a court ruling declaring the watchlist unconstitutional. The FBI has previously removed over ten CAIR clients from the No Fly List in response to lawsuits filed by the civil rights group.

Today, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s argument that lawsuits like Fikre’s case are moot. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Gorsuch, the Court explained that the government’s declaration provided no assurances he would not be placed back on the list if he repeated whatever behavior the Government thought was grounds to put him on in the first place. 

The declaration was silent as to “whether the government might relist him if he does the same or similar things in the future—say, attend a particular mosque or refuse renewed overtures to serve as an informant.” So the Government did not prove “that it cannot reasonably be expected to resume its challenged conduct—whether the suit happens to be new or long lingering, and whether the challenged conduct might recur immediately or later at some more propitious moment.”

CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad lauded the decision: “CAIR has achieved a major victory at the Supreme Court and a historic milestone for American Muslims, including tens of thousands unjustly targeted by our government. We vow to continue our fight until the FBI’s secret watchlists no longer target our communities and undermine the Constitution. We congratulate our amazing legal team for this achievement, and we thank our supporters for entrusting CAIR to protect their rights.”

CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri added: “The court’s unanimous decision is a stinging rebuke of the FBI’s longstanding practice of avoiding accountability by removing innocent Muslims who challenge their listing in federal court.”

CAIR National Deputy Litigation Director Gadeir Abbas, who argued the case for Yonas Fikre before the Supreme Court on January 8, hailed the decision. “The FBI cannot play whack-a-mole with the rights of Muslims. The FBI cannot place innocent Muslims on the No Fly List, only to then block that unconstitutional list from scrutiny by removing those Muslims whenever they file a lawsuit.”

CAIR Senior Litigation Attorney Justin Sadowsky noted that he looked forward to continuing the case. “If the Government is going to defend what it did to Yonas, then we will make sure a court rules that what it did was illegal. The Government must change its ways if it wants to avoid judicial scrutiny of the No Fly List.”

READ: The Supreme Court’s Decision in FBI v. Fikre