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Supreme Court to take on whistleblower case

On May 19, the Supreme Court decided to consider the case involving the fired federal air marshal who leaked information to the press because he felt the public’s safety was at risk

Robert J. MacLean’s whistleblowing battle continues. On May 19, the Supreme Court decided to consider the case involving the fired federal air marshal who leaked information to the press because he felt the public’s safety was at risk.

Specifically, MacLean had been briefed about a potential terrorist attack back in 2006.  Subsequently, MacLean said he had received another public text message sent to air marshals from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that because of a budget cuts, the agency was cutting back on overnight trips for undercover air marshals. MacLean then went to his boss with his concerns who urged him to keep quiet, and then he went onto another layer of superiors but again, his issue was heard with deaf ears. Instead, the air marshal went MSNBC with the information. The news caused a national stir, a Congressional uproar and a political storm, and the Department of Homeland Security changed its policy.

The question at hand is whether a federal employee may release sensitive information from his agency if he believes the public is endangered.  However, MacLean’s case gets a little more confounding; after he was fired, the TSA retroactively classified the message and the cause of MacLean’s firing was then justified because he had leaked secret federal documents.

Now, at the request of the Obama Administration, the Supreme Court will review a lower court’s decision that MacLean had been ‘unfairly fired’ for going to the media about a security plan.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said MacLean was entitled to argue that he was protected by whistleblower laws after he was fired by the TSA. However, the court agreed to a request from the Obama administration to review a lower court’s decision that MacLean may have been unfairly fired for going to the media.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said MacLean was entitled to argue that he was protected by whistleblower laws after he was fired by the TSA in 2006.

The lower court ruling, U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the court in a brief, “effectively permits individual federal employees to override the TSA’s judgments about the dangers of public disclosure.”

 “Robert MacLean was a federal air marshal who spoke up about the consequences of a dangerous and possibly unlawful government decision,” wrote Washington lawyer and former deputy solicitor general Neal Katyal.

“Because he blew the whistle, the government changed policy and a potential tragedy was averted. But Mr. MacLean paid a hefty price.”

 

For more whistleblower news, check out the following:

 

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Alexis Harrison

Alexis Harrison is a Connecticut-based writer and public relations professional whose career spans both print journalism and broadcast news. Alexis started her professional life as...

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