So now the terror watchlist is unconstitutional?

You might want to keep a closer eye on your fellow passengers next time you’re standing in the TSA line at the airport. A federal judge from the Eastern District of Virginia has ruled in favor of a suit brought by CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) seeking to do away with the federal terrorist watchlist. What the judge hasn’t determined yet is how to proceed from here. So I guess we’ve got that whole terrorism problem licked now, eh? (Washington Times)

A federal judge has ruled that the government’s watchlist of more than 1 million people identified as “known or suspected terrorists” violates the constitutional rights of those placed on it.

The ruling Wednesday from Judge Anthony Trenga grants a summary judgment to nearly two dozen Muslim U.S. citizens who challenged the watchlist with the help of a Muslim civil-rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

But the judge is seeking additional legal briefs before deciding what remedy to impose.

I’ll be the first to admit that the terror watch list has been problematic and in need of improvement pretty much since its inception. As the saying goes, mistakes have been made. You may recall the time that Republican Representative Tom McClintock of California was placed on the list and was unable to board a plane. And once you’re on such a list it’s nearly impossible to get off of it. (Unless you’re an elected official, of course.)

There are also valid questions about due process when it comes to the various lists the government keeps. Presumably, you’ve not been charged with any terror-related crimes if you’re on the list, otherwise, you’d already be under arrest or at least have a warrant out on you. Restricting people’s movements when they aren’t actively being sought for prosecution is definitely troubling.

But do those concerns outweigh the safeguards these lists are supposed to put in place? As long as we have people who are willing to blow up planes, parades and marathons, ending their own lives for whatever their cause may be, a little paranoia may be excusable. Rather than doing away with the lists entirely, perhaps the court could suggest improvements to the system.

For one thing, there should be an easier method to quickly appeal being placed on the list. And the criteria for placing someone in this category could probably be trimmed down a bit while educating the public on how the system works so innocent travelers are less likely to be caught up in it.

I suppose what I’m saying is that the terror watchlists are definitely problematic, but we probably don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater here. The system could be improved rather than simply being abandoned, and that’s the direction in which I’d like to see the courts steer this question.