Justices Side With Former Air Marshal In Dispute Over Whistleblowing


The Supreme Court ruled today that a former U.S. air marshal wasn’t “specifically prohibited by law” to leak information about agency cutbacks, USA today reports. The 7-2 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts was a rare court victory for government whistle-blowers who expose dangers to health or safety. The case involved Robert MacLean, who flew undercover and armed, to thwart terrorists. When the Transportation Security Administration decided to reduce overnight flights for air marshals in 2003, MacLean leaked the news to MSNBC, which prompted congressional criticism before TSA reversed itself.

When his identity was revealed three years later, MacLean was fired for disclosing “sensitive security information,” which violated TSA rules. The federal Whistle-Blower Protection Act only disallows disclosures “specifically prohibited by law” or by executive order classifying the information as secret. A federal appeals court ruled that his disclosure didn’t violate a federal law, only an agency regulation. The government appealed the case, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s decision and reinforce TSA’s authority, but the high court upheld the appeals decision.

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