Steve Chapman

As a rule, these are people who have not been arrested or convicted of breaking any law. They may venture into subways, elementary schools, shopping malls, government buildings, movie theaters and other sites where innocents could be slaughtered. Those on the list are treated as a mortal threat only aboard a commercial aircraft.

It's a strange policy with dire and often unjust results. Last week, though, its future was put in doubt. A U.S. district court in Virginia ruled that Mohamed had a right to challenge his apparent inclusion on the no-fly list because of its "profound" impact on his life.

Judge Anthony Trenga wrote that "a No Fly List designation transforms a person into a second-class citizen, or worse." It hinders him from visiting family and friends, making religious pilgrimages and taking vacations, and it could wreck his career.

"It is difficult to think of many job categories of any substance where an inability to fly would not affect the prospects for employment or advancement," he noted. Oh, and imagine the professional and personal rewards of being labeled a potential terrorist by your government.

All this happens with little protection against groundless suspicions. If Mohamed went through the usual procedure to challenge his inclusion, noted Trenga, he would not be told why he was included, he would not be able to see or dispute the government's evidence, and, when the government had completed its review, he would not even be told whether he was on the list or off.

This is not the first court to rule against the policy, and it's not likely to be the last. For more than a decade, the federal government assumed it could consign thousands of Americans to travel purgatory without justifying itself to anyone. But the no-fly list as currently administered may be headed for its final approach.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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