U.S. Supreme Court

Can TSA agent who leaked information invoke whistleblower law? SCOTUS to decide

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a former federal air marshal is entitled to assert whistleblower protections for revealing plans to cut security on some flights.

The former air marshal, Robert MacLean, was fired three years after he spoke to MSNBC about a plan to stop deploying air marshals on overnight flights from Las Vegas, according to the cert petition (PDF) by the solicitor general. The Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, the Washington Post and NPR have stories.

MacLean says he complained to his boss about the budget-saving plan, and when that didn’t help, he leaked the information in 2003 to a MSNBC reporter. After “a congressional uproar,” the plan to stop deploying agents on the Vegas flights was canceled, the Post says. MacLean’s identity was discovered in 2006 when he spoke to NBC in apparently inadequate disguise to complain that TSA agents were too easy to spot because they had to wear ties.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit had ruled MacLean could argue he was entitled to whistleblower protection under the federal whistleblower law, which bars retaliation against federal employees who reveal “a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, if such disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law.”

The government says the Transportation Security Administration was allowed to fire MacLean under a law that bars TSA employees from leaking sensitive security information that is detrimental to transportation security.

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog.

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