The Supreme Court added one new case to its merits docket this morning. The justices agreed to hear the government’s appeal in FNU [First Name Unknown] Tanzin v. Tanvir, a dispute over whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows lawsuits for money damages against individual federal employees.
The question arises in a lawsuit filed by Muslim men – who are either U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents – who contend that they were placed on the “no fly” list after they refused, based at least in part on their religious beliefs, to provide information about other Muslims to the FBI in terrorism-related investigations. The men sued the FBI agents, claiming that the retaliation against them violated RFRA, which generally bars the government from placing a “substantial burden” on an individual’s exercise of his religion unless the government can show that the burden advances a compelling interest.
The district court dismissed the men’s claims, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reinstated them. It ruled that a provision in RFRA that enables litigants to “obtain appropriate relief against a government” allows lawsuits for money damages against federal employees who are sued in their individual, rather than official, capacity. The government asked the Supreme Court to review that ruling, telling the justices that the case “raises fundamental separation-of-powers concerns with a significant impact on Executive Branch operations nationwide.” Today the justices granted the government’s request; the case will likely be scheduled for argument early next year.
We expect more orders from today’s conference on Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. The justices could also act at any moment on the request by President Donald Trump to temporarily block a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that upheld a subpoena for Trump’s financial records.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.