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A federal appeals court judge leaned forward in his chair, turned his head to the Justice Department attorney defending the government's no-fly list and posed a frank question.

"Let's say you want to fly back to Washington, and you find yourself on the no-fly list," 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinsky said Friday. "You're sitting in an airport, stranded. You think, 'my God, I went to law school, I work for (the Justice Department), in my heart I know I did nothing wrong.' What do you do?"

Fifteen Muslim men who faced circumstances similar to the hypothetical one asked by Kozinsky, are suing the federal government over their placement on the FBI's no-fly list. They had tried to board flights — either domestic or returning to the U.S. — and were told they couldn't fly.

Justice Department attorney Josh Waldman demurred and said circumstances differ among people on the list. The answer didn't satisfy Kozinsky.

"I mean you, yourself. It's going to be future denials, you can't fly to vacations, bar mitzvahs," Kozinsky pressed, drawing laughs in the federal courtroom in Portland. "I think people here are interested."

The judge's questions were at the heart of the men's lawsuit, though the subject before the three-judge appeals court panel was a narrower question — whether a federal court in Oregon has a say in the case, since the policies of the Transportation Security Administration are not subject to district court jurisdiction.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown rejected the case, saying it couldn't rule on cases involving TSA policies and procedures.

Brown said she made her ruling based on whether the plaintiffs were arguing against the men's placement on the no-fly list by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center or against TSA policies. The Terrorist Screening Center is subject to district court jurisdiction.


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