Two lawsuits challenge demands for air travelers’ IDs

Two Federal lawsuits have been filed against the Federal government and officers and agents of the Department of Homeland Security and its component agencies for violating air travelers rights by demanding that they identity themselves and/or provide evidence of their identities.

The complaint in Amadei v. Duke was filed today by the ACLU in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (the district in which New York’s Kennedy Airport is located) on behalf of nine of the passengers on Delta Airlines Flight 1583 from SFO to JFK on February 22, 2017.

As was reported at the time of the incident, visibly-armed U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers blocked the door of the plane when it arrived at JFK. Passengers were told they wouldn’t be allowed to leave unless and until they showed the officers their “documents”, which they were told meant “government-issued ID”.

CBP officials and spokespeople helped make the legal case against themselves and the agency by telling reporters that this was a “routine” practice consistent with agency policy, not an isolated incident or one that could be blamed on mistake, individual “bad apples”, or front-line officers.

The complaint challenges the demand for passengers on Flight 1583 to show ID as a suspicionless dragnet search not supported by a warrant or probable cause for particularized suspicion of the passengers subjected to the search, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The demand for ID came after, not before, the flight, and the lawsuit doesn’t raise any claims of interference with freedom to travel or freedom of assembly. But it may help clarify what the basis is for the claimed authority of the CBP (and perhaps other DHS components) to conduct such searches.

There may be a arguable basis in Federal statutes for this search. But to the extent there is, we believe that those statutes are unconstitutional.

Wright v. U.S. was filed in June of this year in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles on behalf of Heidi Wright, who “is a disabled person who suffers from the effects of strokes, which effects include that she cannot speak and cannot write.” TSA checkpoint staff prevented Ms. Wright was passing through a TSA checkpoint at LAX to board a flight to Phoenix, for which she held a valid ticket, because she was unable to respond to their demands — repeated during an hour and forty-four minutes of interrogation — that she state her name verbally or in writing.

Ms. Wright’s lawsuit seeks redress under the Rehabilitation Act and other Federal and California laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities. It raises no direct claims of violations of the First or Fourth Amendment or the right to travel. Nevertheless, we expect that — unless the Federal government buys its way out with a settlement — we expect that this lawsuit will prompt the TSA to clarify what basis it claims for denying passage to someone who sits mute in a wheelchair and is unwilling or, as in this case, unable to answer questions about their identity.

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