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ALC, Partner Orgs File SCOTUS Amicus Brief Supporting Muslim Communities’ Constitutional Rights in FBI v. Fazaga

September 29, 2021 News

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Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Partner Orgs File SCOTUS Amicus Brief Supporting Muslim Communities’ Constitutional Rights in FBI v. Fazaga

Landmark case will decide whether communities subjected to suspicionless surveillance can hold the government accountable for violating Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, expression, and association

Community lawyers detail decades-long history of unlawful suspicionless surveillance against Muslim Americans

SAN FRANCISCO — Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (Asian Law Caucus) and Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court this week in support of Muslim communities’ right to hold the government to account for unlawful and suspicionless surveillance that violates religious freedoms and civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. The brief details the U.S. government’s long and relentless history of discriminatory surveillance targeting Muslim communities, the FBI’s indefensible lack of factual bases or legal justification for such surveillance, and the immeasurable harms suspicionless surveillance inflicts on countless families, students, neighbors, and worshippers. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), American Muslim Bar Association, Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA), and Secure Justice also joined the brief.

“For decades, the U.S. government has subjected Muslim communities—including Black Muslims and immigrants—to discriminatory and pervasive surveillance on a wholly impermissible basis: our religious, racial, and ethnic identities,” said Hammad Alam, Staff Attorney and Program Manager in the National Security and Civil Rights program at Asian Law Caucus. “This case will decide whether we can hold the U.S. government to account when it violates freedoms and rights that are essential to freely practicing our faiths and expressing our religious identities, or whether the Court further undermines the fundamental hallmarks of democracy and the rule of law.”

The case before the Supreme Court addresses whether the FBI can evade accountability for illegally spying on Muslim communities in Orange County, California. The plaintiffs, including imam Yassir Fazaga, a Black Muslim immigrant from Eritrea, along with Ali Uddin Malik and Yasser AbdelRahim, regular attendees of various mosques across Orange County, assert that the FBI’s surveillance operations in their mosques and communities, including the planting of an informant who posed as a Muslim convert, violated the First Amendment, unlawfully collected information on religious practices in violation of the Privacy Act, and engaged in unreasonable searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In support of the plaintiffs, Asian Law Caucus and CLEAR’s amicus brief details the decades-long history and chilling effects of dragnet and suspicionless surveillance of Muslim communities in the United States, from the FBI’s surveillance of the Nation of Islam, to post 9/11 operations targeting entire Muslim communities in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area for no reason other than these communities’ faith. For example, an undercover officer went as far as surveilling and recording the number of times Muslim students prayed on a college whitewater rafting trip. Despite the NYPD’s discriminatory dragnet operations, a top NYPD official admitted that the program never generated a single lead or investigation. The brief underscores the need to ensure that communities subjected to such discriminatory and suspicionless surveillance maintain the right to pursue judicial redress—and thus accountability—of harmful and unlawful government conduct.

For nearly 20 years, the Asian Law Caucus’ National Security and Civil Rights program has led local and statewide campaigns to dismantle discriminatory surveillance programs, including ending Oakland and San Francisco’s participation in the Joint Terrorism Task Force and denying funding to state agencies seeking to implement harmful Countering Violent Extremism programs across the state of California. Earlier this month, the Asian Law Caucus, CLEAR, CCR, PANA, ADC, and other civil rights groups sent the Biden administration a memorandum detailing the most egregious of these national security policies and the steps the administration should take to dismantle discriminatory surveillance programs.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in FBI v. Fazaga on November 8, 2021. Read the amicus brief we filed this week.