Court supports JPL employees

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on June 4 denied a petition to reconsider a 2008 decision to grant a preliminary injunction protecting Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists and engineers from being required to submit to a Bush administration Homeland Security background check established five years ago.

The case was filed in 2007 by 28 JPL employees after they were told they would have to submit to an extensive background check that could include interviews with friends, neighbors and co-workers or anyone the agency deemed important.

The checks could also include questions regarding an individual’s health history and sexual orientation.

“We feel pretty good,” said Robert Nelson, one of the JPL employees who filed the lawsuit. “I first heard about the [decision] a little before noon [on June 4]. I checked the Court of Appeals website to see if the report was real.”

Nelson and his fellow scientists filed the suit after they were told by their superiors that they would have to submit to the extensive background check. All employees were required to complete a background check before they were hired, but this was a new, more in-depth look that, according to the employees, violated their constitutional rights.

“We were told (by management) at the start this was something that had no chance for success, “ Nelson said. “We are so grateful we found this magnificent team of lawyers.”

Attorneys Dan Stormer and Virginia Keeny took the case and through the past two years have been in and out of court.

The decision by the court has upheld an earlier ruling that scientists “face a stark choice — either violation of their constitutional rights or loss of their jobs,” Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote in the 2008 opinion.

Nelson said they have been receiving calls from across the country concerning their fight.

“We are getting calls from employees from federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Education [and many more],” he said. “They are looking at our case as a possible shelter for our case.”

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