U.S. Supreme Court Hears Challenge to FBI Spying on Muslim Americans in Orange County

On November 8, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Fazaga v. FBI, a lawsuit challenging the government’s secret surveillance of people on the basis of their religious beliefs and practices. Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai, LLP, along with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Council for American Islamic Relations, represents a religious leader and two congregants who were among thousands of Muslims targeted by the FBI’s surveillance of Orange County mosques in 2006 and 2007.

The federal district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims that the FBI unlawfully targeted Muslims based on their religion and accepted the FBI’s argument that allowing the lawsuit to proceed could reveal “state secrets.” The “state secrets” privilege is a controversial legal doctrine that shields the government from judicial review, as long as it claims that defending itself in a lawsuit could endanger national security.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the district court’s dismissal, and instructed the district court to consider the plaintiffs’ claims under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which specifies procedures for courts to follow when handling sensitive evidence in national security matters. The FBI appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decided to hear the case on the narrow issue of whether the case should be dismissed under the “state secrets” privilege, or whether FISA’s review procedures authorize a district court to reach the merits of a lawsuit challenging government surveillance by privately reviewing the privileged evidence.

“While the Supreme Court has decided to review this case on a fairly narrow legal issue, we do not want to forget what this case is ultimately about and why it was important that this case was filed more than ten years ago,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR-LA. “The FBI infiltrated several mosques in Southern California, planted informants, and targeted Muslim Americans for illegal spying solely because of their religion. The FBI’s actions were a clear violation of our Constitution and revealed that the FBI viewed, and continues to view, the American Muslim community as second-class citizens who are suspects until proven innocent.”

The Supreme Court heard over two hours of oral argument on November 8, 2021. A decision is expected by summer 2022.

Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai, LLP is proud to fight for our clients’ right to be free from religious discrimination and unlawful surveillance. If you need help in a similar case, please do not hesitate to contact our firm at (626) 775-7870 or send us a message online.

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