Monday, September 18, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Monday, September 18, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Bias in Surveillance of New Jersey Muslims

NEWARK (CN) - New Jersey Muslims who claim that New York City conducted discriminatory blanket surveillance failed to allege an injury, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge William Martini dismissed the complaint Thursday after finding that the surveillance program conducted by the New York City Police Department had come to light only after the Associated Press broke a story on it in 2011.

"Following the Associated Press publication about the secret program, the attorney general of New Jersey conducted an investigation and concluded that that NYPD had not violated any New Jersey civil or criminal laws," a footnote to the 10-page decision states.

Two Muslim-owned businesses had joined the Rutgers University Muslim Student Association, two operators of mosques, and six Muslim individuals in the 2012 challenge to the program that they said had been in place since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Rather than challenging the surveillance itself as unconstitutional, the plaintiffs claimed that animus toward Muslims motivated the "secret spying program," in violation of the First and 14th Amendments.

"Collectively, plaintiffs allege the surveillance program caused a series of spiritual, stigmatic, and pecuniary losses," U.S. District Judge William Martini summarized. "Plaintiffs report diminished religious expression, employment prospects, property values, and revenue following the Associated Press's publication of its story about the program."

They said the program relied on video surveillance and undercover officers to infiltrate communities and monitor mosques, Muslim organizations and individuals.

But Judge Martini emphasized that "none of the plaintiffs' injuries arose until after the Associated Press released unredacted, confidential NYPD documents and articles expressing its own interpretation of those documents."

"No where in the complaint do plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of the documents by the Associated Press," he continued. "This confirms that plaintiffs' alleged injuries flow from the Associated Press's unauthorized disclosure of the documents. These harms are not 'fairly traceable' to any act of surveillance."

Setting aside the issue of injury in fact, the plaintiffs also failed to demonstrate "the required causation element of standing," according to the ruling.

"A party does not have standing when the injury-in-fact alleged is 'manifestly the product of the independent action of a third party,'" Martini wrote.

The judge also found no proof that New York City acted with a sole purpose to discriminate against the Muslim community.

"For similar reasons, the plaintiffs in this case have not alleged facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion," Martini wrote. "The more likely explanation for the surveillance was a desire to locate budding terrorist conspiracies. The most obvious reason for so concluding is that surveillance of the Muslim community began just after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself. While this surveillance program may have had adverse effects upon the Muslim community after the Associated Press published its articles; the motive for the program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims."

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.