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How Nosy Can Feds Be? High Court Hears Contractor-Privacy Case

Photo: phone-records.com
Photo: phone-records.com

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a case that brings into question the government’s authority to conduct background checks on private government contractors.

The case, NASA v. Nelson, involves 28 Caltech scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles who sued after NASA sought to implement new background check measures for its contractors, including “low-risk” positions, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The contractors, led by Robert M. Wilson (the case bears his name), won a judgment from U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that the checks violated the contractors’ rights to privacy.

But L.A. Times reports the Supreme Court will likely be a harder sell, as evidenced by a “skeptical” court hearing testimony Oct. 4.

Newly appointed Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the proceedings because as the U.S. solicitor general, she argued the Supreme Court should dismiss the case.

And Talk Radio News Network mentions the strange split the court could take, even a possible 4-4 tie with Kagan’s recusal.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor seemed “critical” of the government’s position and wanted to know the government’s limits in asking personal questions on background-check questionnaires, TRNN reports.

But Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to hew closer to a differing view.

“It’s a very nice thing that the government shouldn’t ask intrusive questions … but I just don’t see it anywhere in the Constitution,” Roberts is quoted as telling the contractors’ attorney.

The case’s outcome is expected to affect both the growing federal and contractor workforce.

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