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November 22, 2007

A Contrarian View On The Flyng Imam Suit

As indicated above, I'm going to be a contrarian on yesterday's decision to allow the six "flying imams" to continue their suit against US Airways. While so many of my fellow conservatives think the judge should have dismissed the suit, I think it should -- indeed must -- continue to a decision by a jury.

Six Muslim imams arrested on a U.S. Airways jet in Minneapolis last November after a passenger raised suspicions about their pre-flight prayers and boarding activities won an early victory Tuesday in their federal lawsuit against the airline and the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery's opinion and order rejected almost all of the defendants' arguments for dismissal. She said the question of whether airport officers had probable cause to arrest the men must be determined by the objective facts they had available at the time.

Over the past year, the case has triggered a firestorm of debate about security concerns vs. religious rights. The imams have argued that they were removed because of religious and ethnic bias. The airline says they were ejected solely because of security concerns raised by passengers and crew members.

Now let me explain why I think this is a good outcome. In time, this case is going to go before a group of twelve men and women who will have to determine whether or not the actions of the six were suspicious or not. And that decision will be based upon how those actions are COLLECTIVELY viewed, not how they are viewed in isolation from one another. So while no one of these actions can be seen as particularly damning, I fail to see how a jury can conclude that all of them taken together are anything other than suspicious and grounds for further investigation.

My only concern is that the judge may have indicated a bias in how she framed her decision.

It was that suit that Judge Montgomery allowed to proceed. In her 41-page decision, she said the imams "adequately stated a claim" that airport police may have "seized plaintiffs in violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures."

But we have to wonder if the judge would have so readily given the imams' suit the green light had she been a passenger or crew member on that plane.

Reports indicate that the men made anti-American statements, chanted "Allah, Allah, Allah" and used prayer rugs at the gate before the flight. On board, witnesses say the men left their assigned seats and placed themselves at strategic places within the cabin two in the front, two in the middle, two in the rear. They also asked for seat-belt extensions, though a flight attendant didn't think they needed them, and refused pilot requests to submit to additional screening.

Montgomery, however, said it is "dubious" that a reasonable person would conclude from these facts that the imams were about to interfere with the crew or aircraft.

I'll agree that the imams have provided enough of a case to let their suit advance. However, her injection of her opinion (assuming, of course, that this one word excerpt accurate reflects its original context) regarding the conclusion drawn by airline and airport professionals at the time does strike me as troubling. If I were a lawyer in this case, I'd be filing a motion for a new judge, given the fact that the current one seems to have made up her mind about the proper outcome of the case.

But in the end, I still support this case going to court. Our court system should be open to those who believe they have a legitimate claim to bring, and judges should be reluctant to dismiss cases were there is a plausible argument presented by the plaintiff.

Besides -- imagine the fun that can be had deposing these guys, and requiring them to produce material on discovery.

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