The ACLU of Illinois, along with other ACLU affiliates in Massachusetts, Michigan and Washington State, represented nine individuals – all United States citizens – who had been the victims of repeated stops, harassment and undue detentions upon re-entering the country. These plaintiffs faced frightening situations such as having guns drawn on them, being hand-cuffed for long periods of time, and being separated from family members traveling with them. The lawsuit sought to compel the government to fix the terrorist screening system that inflicted this harm on our clients. The parties engaged in an extended discovery dispute regarding the U.S. government’s assertion of a “state secrets” privilege and a law enforcement privilege as grounds to withhold information about whether the named plaintiffs were on any government watch list and the nature of the government’s border screening practices and policies. On the law enforcement privilege and the state secrets question, the magistrate judge ruled largely in our favor. The government objected to the magistrate judge’s orders and appealed to Judge Guzman. In July 2007, Judge Guzman denied defendants’ motion to dismiss and certified the case as a class action. In June 2008, the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion that decertified the plaintiff classes, and also offered certain dicta regarding the merits of the case. Following that decision, the district court dismissed the case with prejudice. After conferring with our clients and co-counsel, we elected not to appeal this decision. That decision was based on changes in government policy. In early 2009, soon after the change of administration, the government changed policies to make it less likely that someone would be listed improperly on the terrorist screening database. Moreover, our clients and other members of the traveling public have reported far fewer detentions to the ACLU. When they have been detained, they report that the length and invasiveness of the stops are less severe than once experienced. We believe that the policy changes caused these improvements and that our lawsuit and its resulting media attention to the unfair treatment of innocent travelers contributed to this policy change.
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