A case that could have important consequences for the government’s ability to conduct surveillance inside mosques and other houses of worship has been stalled at a federal appeals court for more than three years, reports Politico. The unexplained delay is rekindling questions about the timeliness of decisions from the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, an issue that has drawn President Trump’s ire. Critics have cited the court’s struggle to keep up with its docket as a reason to split up the court, which covers nine Western states and about 20 percent of the U.S. population. The case also touches on an issue at the center of Trump’s campaign — surveilling Muslims. A ruling in the long-pending case could provide guidance to both the FBI and its critics about what tactics are legally acceptable.
The unresolved appeal centers around an FBI-led undercover operation at southern California mosques. The key informant, Craig Monteilh, alleged that officials told him to engage in dragnet surveillance of Muslims in Orange County and Los Angeles, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit in 2011. The advocacy group argued that the FBI was using illegal methods to monitor mosque members. The case is pending before Ninth Circuit judges Marsha Berzon and Ronald Gould and visiting district court judge George Steeh of Detroit. It should have triggered a procedure for judges’ reporting to their colleagues on cases submitted for more than nine months without a decision. Court spokesman David Madden said the case is not representative of the progress the court has made speeding up its docket. In the fiscal year that ended in September, the median time for resolving a Ninth Circuit appeal was 11.7 months, down from 13 months in 2017 and 15.2 months in 2016, Madden said.