A hearing in federal court Tuesday has apparently marked the conclusion of a drawn-out, costly, and, to use the judge’s own term, “Kafkaesque” legal battle over the government no-fly list. Malaysian college professor Rahinah Ibrahim sued the government back in 2006, after Dr. Ibrahim’s name mistakenly ended up on a federal government no-fly list.
Last month, US District Judge William Alsup ruled that Ibrahim must be removed from the government's various watchlists. At Tuesday's hearing, a Department of Justice lawyer said that the government did not intend to appeal the ruling. The ruling in Ibrahim v. DHS calls into question the government's administration of its controversial no-fly list as well as other terrorist watch lists, but it leaves no clear roadmap for other people wrongly placed on such lists.
Ibrahim's pro bono attorney, Elizabeth Pipkin, has asked for the government to pay more than $3.5 million to cover her legal fees and costs. Alsup didn't rule on that motion, but said that the issue was "not easy," while indicating that Pipkin is unlikely to be entitled to such a large payout.
The Ibrahim case marks the first and only successful challenge to the terrorist watch-listing program, which arose following the 9/11 attacks. But Ibrahim's case, as just one of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have been placed on such lists, shows the system's opacity. First, the only surefire way to even determine if one is on such a list in the US is to attempt to board a flight and be denied. Even after that happens, when a denied person inquires about his or her status, the likely response will be that the government “can neither confirm nor deny” the placement on such lists.