Court Ruling Branding U.S. Terror Watchlist Unconstitutional Celebrated As 'Tremendous Victory' for Muslim-Americans 'Unjustly Profiled by the Government'

For years, U.S. residents placed on the government's terror watchlist have argued that they have been unfairly targeted by their country, with Muslim-Americans in particular claiming to have been placed on the controversial list for no reason other than their religion.

On Wednesday, a U.S. district judge appeared to agree, ruling that the government's watch list identifying more than 1 million people as "known or suspected terrorists" violates the constitutional rights of those placed on it.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga was hailed as a "complete victory" by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which represented nearly two dozen Muslim U.S. citizens who challenged the constitutionality of the watch list.

"This is a tremendous victory, not just for all American-Muslims, but for all Americans who care about civil rights and the Constitution," Hassan Shibly, a lawyer who heads CAIR's Florida chapter and was named as a plaintiff in the case, told Newsweek.

"For decades, every time I have traveled and every time many people I know who traveled and who share my faith have been stopped at the border for hours at a time, placed in handcuffs, interrogated and treated as second-class citizens," he said. "We have been unjustly profiled by the government and it has been extremely oppressive and stigmatizing treatment that we have received over the years."

"We always knew it was wrong and always knew it was unconstitutional," he said. "And now, after decades of receiving unjust treatment, a judge has found in our favor and vindicated us by agreeing that the profiling and harassment we faced at the hands of the government were unconstitutional. It's a tremendous victory."

In a previous interview with Newsweek, Shibly had detailed how since he was 18 years old he had "personally been stopped over two dozen times, including being placed in handcuffs, asked about my religious practices and subjected to extremely humiliating treatments at the hands of federal officers who have treated me like a second-class citizen on account of my faith."

While the watch list is meant to specifically include those who are "known or suspected terrorists," according to the Associated Press, it contains hundreds of thousands of names—and Shibly said he is just one of many Muslim-Americans whom he believes have been placed on the list for no reason other than their faith.

In Trenga's ruling, the judge said the watch list fails to meet the standards for constitutionally sufficient procedural due process.

"There is no evidence, or contention, that any of these plaintiffs satisfy the definition of a 'known terrorist,'" Trenga wrote, according to Associated Press. Meanwhile, the other standard for placement, being a "suspected terrorist," could be a label easily earned by conduct that is misconstrued, he said.

The judge also found the travel difficulties that plaintiffs placed on the list face to be significant, with plaintiffs alleging to have been handcuffed at border crossings and subjected to invasive searches at airports.

While Trenga's ruling grants summary judgment to the 23 U.S. citizens represented in the case, the judge is seeking additional legal briefs before making a decision on what remedy to impose.

While Shibly said he could not be happier about the judge's decision, he said "the fight is not over."

"The battle is going to continue on what the remedy will be," he said.

For anything to change, the CAIR Florida chief said, the watchlist system will need a "complete overhaul" so the U.S. government cannot unfairly target Muslim-Americans, or anyone else in the country.

"The fact that it was in place was unjust. It curtailed our civil liberties and it didn't stop any terrorists or save any lives," he said.

However, Trenga's ruling now "sets an extremely powerful precedent" for other cases seeking justice for and reformation to the government's watchlist.

Update: 05/09/2019 at 9:45am ET: The headline of this article has been updated.

hassan shibly
Hassan Shibly (left) a lawyer who heads CAIR's Florida chapter and who was named as a plaintiff in a case arguing the U.S. government's terror watchlist is unconstitutional walks out of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia with lawyers Gadeir Abbas and Lena Masri. On Wednesday, September 4, 2019, U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga ruled in their favor. Hassan Shibly