Balkinization's Mark Graber transmits the story of Professor Walter F. Murphy, a career Marine whose name now appears on the do-not-fly list. When he discussed this situation with an airline employee, he reports the following exchange:
"I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said. "The Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr notes that there's no evidence presented that the name on the list is related to this particular Walter F. Murphy, but the comments section of the post gives a lot of pushback on that idea.
"After carefully examining my credentials, the clerk asked if he could take them to TSA officials. I agreed. He returned about ten minutes later and said I could have a boarding pass, but added: "I must warn you, they=re going to ransack your luggage." On my return flight, I had no problem with obtaining a boarding pass, but my luggage was "lost." Airlines do lose a lot of luggage and this "loss" could have been a mere coincidence. In light of previous events, however, I'm a tad skeptical."
Kerr also raises a good question:
I wonder, though, would the airline clerk know? Perhaps, as the clerk apparently professed a lot of knowledge as to who gets on the No-Fly list. On the other hand, how much do you trust an airline clerk about something like this?It's a fair question, but I imagine that the airline clerk has more experience with this than, say, I do. I imagine that the airline clerk has had some training in how to address these situations, and has shared the same sort of "water cooler" discussions about it that professionals in any field would have about interesting legal developments in their industry. Is the clerk correct? No idea, but the comment thread at Volokh is a really interesting read.
Update: Ryan Singel at Wired's Threat Level notes his years of pursuing airline watchlist stories and says "I'm open to any evidence that the government has watchlisted American citizens for exercising their Constitutional rights, but I've never seen it."
*I've corrected Murphy's name throughout. Thanks to commenter