Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Aerospace/Defense
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The district court denied a habeas petition by Al Hela, a Yemeni sheik, challenging his detention at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay. Al Hela claims that the President lacked authority to detain him under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, 115 Stat. 224, for substantially supporting Al Qaeda and its associated forces; that he is entitled to release for due process violations; and that the discovery procedures failed to provide him with a “meaningful opportunity” to challenge his detention. The District Court for the District of Columbia has a standing case management order used in many Guantanamo habeas cases to manage discovery and to protect classified information from unwarranted disclosure. The D.C. Circuit affirmed, finding that the President has authority to detain Al Hela, who “substantially supported” enemy forces irrespective of whether he also directly supported those forces or participated in hostilities. Al Hela’s supportive conduct was not “vitiated by the passage of time.” The proceedings below complied with the requirements of the Suspension Clause, which provides that “[t]he Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Guantanamo detainees are entitled to a “meaningful opportunity” to challenge the basis for their detention, not a perfect one. The Due Process Clause may not be invoked by aliens without property or presence in the sovereign territory of the United States. View "Al-Hela v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Al Bahlul, a Yemeni national, was Osama bin Laden’s head of propaganda at the time of the September 11 attacks. After he was captured in Pakistan, Al Bahlul was convicted by a military commission in Guantanamo Bay of conspiracy to commit war crimes, providing material support for terrorism, and soliciting others to commit war crimes. The D.C. Circuit vacated two of his three convictions on ex post facto grounds. On remand, the Court of Military Commission Review, without remanding to the military commission, reaffirmed Al Bahlul's life sentence for the conspiracy conviction.The D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded. The CMCR failed to apply the correct harmless error standard, In reevaluating Al Bahlul’s sentence, the CMCR should have asked whether it was beyond a reasonable doubt that the military commission would have imposed the same sentence for conspiracy alone. The court rejected Al Bahlul’s remaining arguments. The appointment of the Convening Authority was lawful; there is no reason to unsettle Al Bahlul I’s ex post facto ruling, and the court lacked jurisdiction in an appeal from the CMCR to entertain challenges to the conditions of Al Bahlul’s ongoing confinement. View "Al Bahlul v. United States" on Justia Law

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Kaspersky, a Russian-based cybersecurity company, provides products and services to customers around the world. In 2017, based on concerns that the Russian government could exploit Kaspersky’s access to federal computers, the Secretary of Homeland Security directed federal agencies to remove the company’s products from government information systems. Congress later broadened and codified (131 Stat. 1283) that prohibition in the National Defense Authorization Act. Kaspersky sued, arguing that the prohibition constituted an impermissible legislative punishment, a bill of attainder prohibited by the Constitution, Article I, Section 9. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Kaspersky failed to adequately allege that Congress enacted a bill of attainder. The court noted the nonpunitive interest at stake: the security of the federal government’s information systems. The law is prophylactic, not punitive. While Kaspersky is not the only possible gap in the federal computer system’s defenses, Congress had ample evidence that Kaspersky posed the most urgent potential threat and Congress has “sufficient latitude to choose among competing policy alternatives.” Though costly to Kaspersky, the decision falls far short of “the historical meaning of legislative punishment.” Relying just on the legislative record, Kaspersky’s complaint fails to plausibly allege that the motivation behind the law was punitive. View "Kaspersky Lab, Inc.v. United States Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) prohibited Ege, a pilot for Emirates Airlines, from flying to, from, or over the United States. Ege had experienced travel problems and had submitted an online inquiry to the DHS’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. He believes the TSA’s prohibition is based on his alleged inclusion on the “No-Fly List,” a subset of the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) used by the TSA to “deny boarding of individuals on commercial aircraft operated by U.S. carriers or flying to, from, or over the United States.” He sought removal from the No-Fly List or, at a minimum, a “meaningful opportunity to be heard.” The D.C. Circuit dismissed his petition for lack of standing and lack of jurisdiction. Neither the TSA nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the only two rnamed agencies, has “authority to decide whose name goes on the No-Fly List.” The Terrorist Screening Center, which is administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation), is “the sole entity with both the classified intelligence information” Ege wants and “the authority to remove” names from the No-Fly List/TSDB. View "Ege v. Dep't of Homeland Sec." on Justia Law

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The TSA screens passengers and property moving by passenger aircraft, 49 U.S.C. 44901(a) and is authorized to impose a “uniform fee . . . on passengers . . . in air transportation and intrastate air transportation originating at airports in the United States.” Airlines collect the fees from passengers and remit the funds to TSA. In 2013, Congress reset the fee to “$5.60 per one-way trip in air transportation or intrastate air transportation that originates at an airport in the United States.” TSA implemented the amendment; a “one-way trip” means a continuous trip from one point to another with no stopover exceeding specified limits, so that a trip from New York to Los Angeles to San Francisco and back to New York, with stopovers exceeding four hours would be three one-way trips. Airlines challenged TSA’s rules, arguing that TSA lacked authority to impose fees in excess of $11.20 on roundtrip itineraries that involved multiple “one-way trips.” While the case was pending, Congress amended the statute, mooting that claim. The airlines also claimed that the statute precludes TSA from charging a fee on travel that begins abroad but includes a connecting flight within the U.S. The D.C. Circuit held that the airlines have standing but accepted TSA’s explanation that its construction of ambiguous text better aligns the imposition of the fee with those who benefit from the security services provided. View "Airlines for Am. v. Transp. Sec. Admin" on Justia Law

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Republic challenged an order of the DOT withdrawing two Republic "slot exemptions" at Reagan National and reallocating those exemptions to Sun Country. "Slots" were take-off and landing rights. In both an informal letter to Republic and a final order, DOT held that Republic's parent company engaged in an impermissible slot-exemption transfer with Midwest. In so holding, DOT summarily dismissed Republic's argument that, under DOT and Federal Aviation Administration precedent, the Republic-Midwest slot-exemption transfer was permissible because it was ancillary to Republic Holdings' acquisition of Midwest. The court held that because DOT had departed from its precedent without adequate explanation, its decision could not survive arbitrary and capricious review. Accordingly, the court granted Republic's petition for review and vacated DOT's order. View "Republic Airline Inc. v. U.S. Dept. of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and two individuals petitioned for review of a decision by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to screen airline passengers by using advanced imaging technology (AIT) instead of magnetometers. EPIC argued that the use of AIT violated various federal statutes and the Fourth Amendment and, in any event, should have been the subject of notice-and-comment rulemaking before being adopted. The court granted the petition for review with respect to claims that the TSA had not justified its failure to initiate notice-and-comment rulemaking before announcing it would use AIT scanners for primary screening at airports. None of the exceptions urged by the TSA justified its failure to give notice of and receive comment upon such a rule, which was legislative and not merely interpretive, procedural, or a general statement of policy. The court denied the petition with respect to EPIC's statutory arguments and their claim under the Fourth Amendment, except their claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq., which the court dismissed for lack of standing. Finally, due to the obvious need for the TSA to continue its airport security operations without interruption, the court remanded the rule to the TSA but did not vacate it.

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Appellant appealed a conviction on one count of committing an act affecting a personal financial interest in violation of 18 U.S.C. 208(a) and 216(a)(2) and two counts of making false statements in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2) where the convictions arose from his involvement in the allocation of a $15 million congressional earmark while serving as the interim Associate Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA"). At issue was whether there was sufficient evidence to support his convictions under section 208(a) and whether the district court properly charged the jury with the section 208(a) violation. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to support appellant's conviction under section 208(a) where there was ample evidence from which the jury could conclude that the allocation of the earmarked funds was indeed a "particular matter" within the meaning of the statute; that appellant participated both "personally and substantially" in the distribution of the earmarked funds; and that appellant knew he had a financial interest in the "particular matter." The court also held that even if the district court erred by not including the "direct and predictable effect" language in the jury charge, its error was harmless.

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Appellant filed suit against the United States Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, and the Assistant Commandant of the Coast Guard (collectively "the Government") challenging the Coast Guard's determination to terminate his appointment as an unaffiliated, independent pilot. At issue was whether the Government's action violated the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A), as well as appellant's First Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights. The court held that the Coast Guard's interpretation of the term "voluntary association" in the Great Lakes Pilotage Act ("GLPA"), 46 U.S.C. 9304(a), easily survived review under Chevron. The court also held that appellant's First Amendment claim appeared to be precluded by the Second Circuit's judgment and failed on the merits. The court further held that the Coast Guard did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in determining that appellant's dispatch as an independent pilot expired after the 2003 navigation season. The court also rejected appellant's Fifth Amendment due process claim where he had no constitutionally protected entitlement to continued dispatch by the Coast Guard. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's request for extra-record discovery.

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Petitioner, a manufacturer and distributer of aircraft parts, filed a petition seeking review of an "Unapproved Parts Notification" ("UPN") posted by the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") on its website. At issue was whether the petition for review of the FAA order should be granted where petitioner erroneously filed its petition for review in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and where the petition was then forwarded to the court and subsequently filed. The court denied the petition as untimely where petitioner filed after the 60 day statutory time limit had elapsed and it failed to demonstrate reasonable grounds for missing the deadline.