[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that NASA [official website] cannot compel low-risk contract employees working at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory [official website] to undergo intensive background checks. NASA has been conducting background checks of employees since it was founded in 1958, but contract employees were only included after the agency revised its Security Program Procedural Requirements [official backgrounder] in 2006. NASA argued that contract employees were added to the list of workers who had to undergo background checks in compliance with Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 [White House press release], the Federal Information Security Management Act [text, PDF], and the Space Act [text].
In balancing the interests of NASA and the employees facing the background checks, Judge Kim Wardlaw, writing for the court, held that
The balance of hardships tips sharply toward Appellants, who face a stark choice—either violation of their constitutional rights or loss of their jobs. The district court [in this case] erroneously concluded that Appellants will not suffer any irreparable harm because they could be retroactively compensated for any temporary denial of employment.
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