The case of the flying imams

The new issue of the Weekly Standard carries my article “The flying imams win.” In the article I take a brief look back at Judge Montgomery’s July decision denying official immunity to the law enforcement officers who detained and questioned the flying imams at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. In her decision Judge Montgomery held that no competent law enforcement officer could reasonably have thought his behavior was legal.
Judge Montgomery’s ruling did not conclude the case, but rather allowed the case against USAirways and the law enforcement officers to proceed before her. Rulings denying government officials immunity in federal civil rights cases are subject to immediate appeal. The law enforcement defendants therefore had the right to appeal Judge Montgomery’s ruling to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
When they filed the appeal, Judge Montgomery set the case for a settlement conference before Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan. The settlement conference resulted in the resolution of the case involving the payment of an undisclosed amount of money to the imams and their attorneys by defendants including USAirways and the law enforcement defendants. The settlement of the case moots the defendants’ appeal to the Eighth Circuit and leaves Judge Montgomery’s July ruling as the last word on the law applicable to the case.
At the time of the events giving rise to the flying imams’ lawsuit, the imams were returning to Phoenix after a national imams’ conference in suburban Minneapolis. On the last day of their conference, Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison reportedly addressed the conference on the subject of “Imams and Politics.” In her decision, Judge Montgomery states: “Asking Plaintiffs about the reason for their visit to Minneapolis would likely have informed the officers about the three-day NAIF conference, which would help explain why the six imams were together and the lack of checked baggage.”
I wonder. Would law enforcement have been obligated to take the imams at their word? Should their story of attendance at a national imams’ conference have allayed concerns? As I note in the Weekly Standard article, it wouldn’t have taken much digging to discover that one of the six imams was Omar Shahin, a former representative of and fundraiser for the Muslim charity KindHearts, shuttered by the Treasury Department as a Hamas front in February 2006. (Shahin claims he “had no clue what they were doing.”)
CAIR has been intimately involved in the case from the get-go, staging press conferences and publicizing the incident as an outrage against Muslims. Omar Mohammedi of CAIR’s New York chapter was one of the imams’ attorneys in the Minnesota lawsuit. CAIR of course achieved special notoriety when the government named it an unindicted co-conspirator of the convicted Hamas front known as the Holy Land Foundation. See my article “Coming clean about CAIR.”
In the wake of the settlement USA Today devoted a good editorial to the case, but Judge Montgomery’s decision has drawn surprisingly little scrutiny. I fear the likely impact of Judge Montgomery’s decision on law enforcement in future cases and think it deserves another look, which is what I try to give it in the Standard article.

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