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Court reopens case on NYPD Muslim spying

Court reopens case on NYPD Muslim spying
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A federal appeals court reopened a lawsuit accusing the New York Police Department (NYPD) of discriminating against Muslims, claiming that subjects of the department’s surveillance had grounds to sue.

The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed a district court ruling dismissing allegations from Muslim Americans trying to sue the NYPD for discrimination

The allegations brought on behalf of Muslims suing the city “tell a story in which there is standing to complain and which present constitutional concerns that must be addressed and, if true, redressed,” Judge Thomas Ambro wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel. 

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In his pointed opinion, Ambro compared the targeting of Muslim Americans in the years after 9/11 to treatment of Jewish Americans during the “Red Scare” and African Americans during the Civil Rights era.

“We have been down similar roads before,” he declared, quoting arguments used to argue against the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight — that ‘[l]oyalty is a matter of the heart and mind[,] not race, creed, or color.’”

The decision is a harsh rebuke to the NYPD and a sign of hope for critics of the city's harsh demeanor in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The NYPD’s “widespread” surveillance program — revealed in a 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press investigation — was launched in January of 2002 and tracked Muslims without any reason to believe they posed a threat to the U.S., critics claimed. Police allegedly monitored suspects by taking photographs and videos at mosques, Muslim schools and businesses and also sent undercover officers to pick up information.

In 2012, a lawsuit was launched by advocates on behalf of New Jersey Muslims caught up in the NYPD’s sweep, alleging that the surveillance was unconstitutional.

The NYPD has insisted that its program, which was shut down last year, was merely intended to stay on guard for possible terror threats.

In 2014, a lower court tossed the lawsuit out, declaring that it would have been impossible for the NYPD to detect signs of Muslim extremism without monitoring Muslim Americans.

The appeals court, however, found the city’s arguments “unpersuasive” on a number of accounts.

The New Jersey Muslims “have plausibly alleged that the City engaged in intentional discrimination,” Ambro wrote in overturning the ruling, creating “a presumption of unconstitutionality that remains the City’s obligation to rebut...”

The city could appeal the decision to either a full panel of judges on the Third Circuit or to the Supreme Court.

In a statement, a spokesman with the city’s law department said only that officials were reviewing the case and declined to discuss next steps.

“At this stage, the issue is whether the NYPD in fact surveilled individuals and businesses solely because they are Muslim, something the NYPD has never condoned,” the spokesmen said. “Stigmatizing a group based on its religion is contrary to our values.”

The case is Hassan v. City of New York.

—Updated at 4:46 p.m.