Supreme Court to hear case involving background checks for JPL employees

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An aerial view of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California and the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments about post-9/11 security checks at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The case involves JPL employees who passed routine background checks when they were hired – some more than two decades ago.

After 9/11, a Homeland Security directive ordered them to undergo a more thorough check, even though they had no access to classified material. The new checks began in 2007 – and allowed the government to talk to anyone about the employee's finances, drug or alcohol use, and emotional stability.

Twenty-eight JPL scientists and engineers refused to cooperate – and were about to be fired. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals intervened and halted the checks, labeling the new checks a "broad inquisition."

Justice Department lawyers asked the Supreme Court to review the case, saying the Ninth Circuit's decision cast a constitutional cloud over background checks for all federal employees.

The high court will hear the case in its next term, with a decision expected by next summer.

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