WASHINGTON May 19 The U.S. Supreme Court said
on Monday it would weigh whether the federal government rightly
fired a U.S. air marshal for disclosing sensitive information to
the news media.
The justices agreed to hear an appeal filed by the
administration of President Barack Obama, which was seeking
review of an appeals court ruling in favor of the whistleblower,
Oral arguments and a decision are due in the court's next
term, which begins in October and ends in June 2015.
In 2003, MacLean told an MSNBC reporter that the U.S.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had decided not to
assign air marshals to certain long-distance flights, a decision
he disagreed with. He said the decision was made soon after the
agency told marshals of a potential plot to hijack U.S.
The events took place in the aftermath of the Sept. 11,
2001, attacks, in which Islamic militants hijacked airplanes and
flew them into the World Trade Center in New York and the
Pentagon in Virginia.
The legal question is whether MacLean's actions are
protected by the federal Whistleblower Protection Act. That law
protects employees if a disclosure exposes unlawful conduct,
gross mismanagement or threats to public safety.
The government said the TSA had grounds to remove MacLean
from his position in 2006 because of the sensitive nature of the
disclosures, which were specifically prohibited under agency
In an April 2013 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Federal Circuit ruled for MacLean, saying the federal Aviation
and Transportation Security Act did not specifically prohibit
him from making the disclosure. The court left open the question
of whether MacLean could be protected under the whistleblower
In court papers, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli,
Obama's top lawyer before the Supreme Court, said the appeals
court ruling paved the way for other employees to "go public
with internal disagreement about how best to allocate finite
Such disclosures "put lives in danger by identifying the
areas that have received fewer resources," he said.
The case is Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, U.S.
Supreme Court, No. 13-894.
(Editing by Howard Goller and Bernadette Baum)