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The "Walter Murphy" Story Takes Off:
We still don't know why the name "Walter Murphy" was put on the No-Fly list. But meanwhile the story has raced around the blogosphere in the last 24 hours, drawing links from hundreds of blogs and spiking Balkinization's traffic today to about 40,000 hits by 3pm. As you might have guessed, most of the blogs that link to the story have simply assumed it is true that the name was put on the list to punish Professor Murphy for his speech.

  UPDATE: Ryan Singel, a reporter who has written extensively and critically on the No-Fly list for Wired News (see past stories here, here, and here), is highly skeptical about the story. From a post at Wired's Threat Level blog:
[I]t's 99.9 percent sure the good professor isn't on any government watchlist for giving a speech. I have no idea why the counterperson would say that individuals are put on the list for joining anti-war protests, but that's just not true. . . .

Woe be it for this blog to defend the country's foolish watchlist system, but after having spent more than four years reporting on watchlists, filing Freedom of Information Act requests, and talking with persons flagged by the lists, I have never seen a single case of a person being put on the list for activities protected by the First Amendment. Feel free to drop any proof you might have via email or in the comments. . . .

I'm open to any evidence that the government has watchlisted American citizens for exercising their Constitutional rights, but I've never seen it.
  That's very helpful to know.
itshissong:
Head over to Balkinization to see a nice post that is quite even-handed about the reasons why Murphy might be on the list and the inherent flaws in the list that lead to the overreactions and assumptions that have occured in the wake of this story.
4.9.2007 3:49pm
Centrist:
Too bad the title "appalling, if true" was already taken.
4.9.2007 4:00pm
neurodoc:
As you might have guessed, most of the blogs that link to the story have simply assumed it is true that the name was put on the list to punish Professor Murphy for his speech.

Yes, we might have guessed. But why? It is those who are prompted to take the matter up, larger numbers don't believe it and aren't inclined to say anthing about it? Because it plays as an anti-Bush thing and wouldn't be as significant with a Dem in the White House? Or it a non-partisan anti-government thing? Because conspiracy or malice is an inherently more appealing explanation for many than is mere incompetence? One is more of a story (to punish Professor Murphy for his speech), the other (incompetence) doesn't grab attention?

Not surprisingly, it is unsurprising.
4.9.2007 4:08pm
elChato (mail):
Murphy probably thinks this is the best thing that ever happened to him. Below is a story about another incident with a guy with a common name who became convinced he was singled out for the threat he posed to the Bush regime. I supposed the notorious convservatards at 60 Minutes were carrying water for Bush once again when they easily found evidence to dispel his fantasy:

"Dr. Robert J. Johnson, a surgeon and a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, was told in 2006 he was on the list, although he had had no problem in flying the month before. Johnson was running as a Democrat against U.S. Representative John McHugh, a Republican. Johnson wondered whether he was on the list because of his opposition to the Iraq War. He stated, "This could just be a government screw-up, but I don't know, and they won't tell me."[10] Later, a 60 Minutes report brought together 12 men named Robert Johnson, all of whom had experienced problems in airports with being pulled aside and interrogated. The report suggested that the individual whose name was intended to be on the list was most likely the Robert Johnson who had been convicted of plotting to bomb a movie theater and a Hindu temple in Toronto.["
4.9.2007 4:10pm
tbaugh (mail):
Friends of ours had to get a supervisor to get their 2-year old on a flight because his name was on the no-fly list. Probably wasn't anything he had said.
4.9.2007 4:11pm
scote (mail):
...and there is no reason not to assume the worst.

The very idea that we have a secret list of people that is revealed to the suspects when ever they fly is so stupendeously stupid and contrary to the democratic an open traditons of this country that there is no reason not to assume anything but the worst.

It use to be that we could generally dismiss such outrageous claims, but no more.
4.9.2007 4:19pm
Russ (mail):
Murphy has an ego the size of a 767. Counter-agents have no input into, nor special insight about, why someone goes on the no-fly list. Mr. Murphy is probably both paranoid and loving the attention. No one has ever heard of him before this.

Why has Cindy Sheehan not been put on that list? Or Jane Fonda? Or Ted Rall?
4.9.2007 4:43pm
Russ (mail):
Most who believe this kind of garbage seem to think that government is staffed by evil people who are incredibly efficient. So efficient that they can monitor everything out there and can muck through the beauracracy just to put someone on the list they don't care for.

Most of us in the real world know that government is full of people who have good intentions but could screw up a free lunch. Doesn't anyone think that this sort of political backhandedness would have been caught and put out in the mainstream press? I mean, think of everyone who would have to keep quiet for this to work. This is the same country that couldn't keep oral sex between a President and an intern a secret.
4.9.2007 4:47pm
PersonFromPorlock:

I have no idea why the counterperson would say that individuals are put on the list for joining anti-war protests....

Begin with the premise that a 'fact' is any assertion that supports a Higher Truth....
4.9.2007 4:53pm
Houston Lawyer:
I imagine that there was a note of sarcasm in the airline clerk's voice when he confirmed that he was on the list for his anti-Bush comments. Murphy was probably just too addled to notice it.
4.9.2007 4:55pm
frankcross (mail):
Just for the record, Walter Murphy is one of the most brilliant scholars of the Court in recent history. If you haven't heard of him, it's because you are uninformed. He has a healthy self-image, but he's also an academic star, renowned to a level equaling or surpassing any law professors
4.9.2007 5:15pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Just for the record, Walter Murphy is one of the most brilliant scholars of the Court in recent history. If you haven't heard of him, it's because you are uninformed. He has a healthy self-image, but he's also an academic star, renowned to a level equaling or surpassing any law professors
Yep. He was one of my favorite professors at Princeton (and was one of the most popular, as well). He may be playing a bit to the crowd with this current little mini-"scandal," but he's not Ward Churchill.
4.9.2007 5:31pm
Russ (mail):
Sorry, frankcross, but his over-inflated sense of self-importance downgrades, for me, any perceived brilliance on his part. Unless, of course, he's using this whole canard to get himself more attention.

He might be a good law scholar, but he's not overall important enough for the government to hold anti-administration views against him. All that would do would be to create a martyr.

I might not be "informed" about him, but neither is the overwhelming, vast majority of the American public. He's just not as important as he wants us to think.
4.9.2007 5:31pm
18 USC 1030 (mail):
Professor Kerr,

I think you were originally correct in thinking this was a case of false identification. Much has been written about the faults of the No-Fly lists as well as how to rectify the problem. Even those who are staunch supporters of liberty have proposed faults based on the methodology of the list and the technology used--not arguments that people are being listed for being critical of the government.

I think the two best examples are Professor K.A. Taipale of NY Law School and Jeff Jonas of IBM Entity Analytics. Both have written and presented extensively on issues of the problems with the list and both have focused on the technological and methodology flaws.

Examples include this presentation of Taipale's

And this article written by Jeff Jonas and Paul Rosenzweig
4.9.2007 5:31pm
ed o:
being a brilliant scholar of the court or superstar of law professors probably places you somewhere behind the MVP of the most recent college hockey national championship game on the radar screens of most people (sorry for hurting the inflated egos of any superstars out there). uninformed and not giving a damn about academicians are two different animals.
4.9.2007 5:36pm
T-Web (mail):
That's all well and good, frankcross, but it doesn't do anything to show that he ended up on the list because he's run afoul of the Bush administration. Given how many people--both well known and practically anonymous--have protested against this administration without retaliation of this sort, it's unlikely that this one professor from Yale was singled out for punishment. Much more likely is that this is a bureaucratic screw-up or that there's another W. Murphy out there who's involved in some unsavory activities. In the end, I think that Prof. Murphy will be made to look a little silly by all of this--which, frankly, might be good for his "healthy self-image".
4.9.2007 5:36pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
"I'm open to any evidence that the government has watchlisted American citizens for exercising their Constitutional rights, but I've never seen it."

And how does one prove the specific reason that someone was put on a secret list, whose criteria for inclusion are secret?
4.9.2007 5:36pm
Bobbie (mail):
This claim does need to be considered in light of the broader picture of what the Administration has done in the past. It has, among other things, infiltrated peaceful anti-war groups to monitor them. Perhaps professor Murphy is overreacting, but lets not pretend something like this is beyond the Administration. Indeed, if Murphy is correct, I'd hardly put this incident on the top-10 anti-democratic/unconstitutional things the administration has done.
4.9.2007 5:49pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
And how does one prove the specific reason that someone was put on a secret list, whose criteria for inclusion are secret?
You are presupposing that the W. Murphy on the list is the professor that is so well known in legal academia, but nowhere else.

How do you prove that this W. Murphy was put on the list in the first place? I guess if he is the only W. Murphy in the world right now, he might be able to prove it, assumming that you could get your hands on the no-fly list in the first place. But I would think it more likely that if there were a W. Murphy on the list, that it is some IRA suspect or terrorist than the law prof by that name. Unless, this W. Murphy is an IRA operative....

Yes, I can understand why a lot of people want this Prof Walter Murphy to have been put on the no-fly list for political reasons. After all, it would reinforce their views about the evil nature of the Bush Administration.

Now, if it turns out that N. Pelosi is now on the list, after her escapades the last week or so in the Middle East, then maybe I can believe that W. Murphy got there for the same reasons.
4.9.2007 5:52pm
W B Allen (mail):
Well, I suppose this has truly gotten out of hand. Among others I chatted with Walter here at Princeton (where he was traveling) when this happened. I informed that I had encountered the similar circumstance (more than once in fact, damned common name!). I also mentioned how little angst was required to resolve the problem. Oh well, people have to have something to talk about!
4.9.2007 5:56pm
dearieme:
"He has a healthy self-image": that will come in handy for obituary writers, on a par with "he didn't suffer fools gladly" and "he was a confirmed bachelor".
4.9.2007 6:57pm
ed o:
gotten out of hand-might it have "gotten out of hand" because some pompous academic (another word starting with "a" came to mind first) with delusions of grandeur put out the story?
4.9.2007 7:09pm
Henri LeCompte (mail):

I'm open to any evidence that the government has watchlisted American citizens for exercising their Constitutional rights, but I've never seen it.


Excuse me, Mr. Singel (if that is your real name), but apparently you failed to notice that we are currently living under a fascist regime, the likes of which the world hasn't seen since the 1930's. Your inability to notice this makes me skeptical of your ability to notice when the government watchlists American citizens for exercising their Constitutional right.
4.9.2007 7:48pm
alkali (mail) (www):
I would point out that the reason Prof. Murphy concluded he was on the no-fly list because of his public comments on the war is that's what a clerk at the airport specifically suggested to him:
I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said.
Now the clerk could well be a cretin, and perhaps Prof. Murphy is too credulous. But I don't think that the obvious conclusion is that Prof. Murphy is a paranoid egomaniac. I personally would generally assume that people who work at airports are more knowledgeable as to how and why security decisions are made than I am (which is not to say that I couldn't be convinced that something an airport employee told me on that subject was wrong).
4.9.2007 7:54pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I would point out that the reason Prof. Murphy concluded he was on the no-fly list because of his public comments on the war is that's what a clerk at the airport specifically suggested to him:

I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said.
Well, it might have been nice to ask the nice man who he had voted for in 2004 and 2000 for president.

So, we have a self-important law prof finding out from a clueless airline ticket agent that his name is on the no=fly list. And because the ticket agent believes that it might be because Murphy was an outspoken critic of the Administration, it is now gospel truth. Somehow the brain dead ticket agent becomes omniscient.

And note that both Murphy and the ticket agent assummed that just because Murphy's name might be on the list, that it is the same W. Murphy, etc. I think most of us here would assume just the opposite - most likely someone else with the same name.
4.9.2007 8:09pm
SP:
The problem with the clerk's comment - other than, actually, he would have no clue about these things - is that no fly lists aren't drawn up by the airlines, are they? Why would "they" be doing anything based on peace marches? Why is this person the first person to come forward claiming his anti-war activity led to this?
4.9.2007 8:12pm
MusicLover:
I think that it is not such a bad idea to make things difficult for Walter Murphy, the man that brought forth such musical travesties as this to the world.
4.9.2007 8:29pm
Visitor Again:
I might not be "informed" about him, but neither is the overwhelming, vast majority of the American public. He's just not as important as he wants us to think.

That says a great deal about the American public, especially about the younger part of it, those under 50. You've been dumbed down to the point where you think ignorance is acceptable.

It also says a great deal that many think Professor Murphy has an inflated sense of self-importance because he takes umbrage at being told he is on a non-fly list and that it might be for political reasons. I don't care what the reason is; it's outrageous that he was told he could not fly. If you're going to ban people deemed to be security risks from exercising their right to travel, get it right or don't do it at all. Most people here seem to think it's no big deal if someone is banned because of a mistake. It's actually a travesty. And Murphy's case is far from unique. It's happened to lots and lots of people.
4.9.2007 10:04pm
neurodoc:
A bit OT, but...Is there anything strange about a university (Princeton) without a law school having a chair of jurisprudence and that chair being held by someone without a law school eduction (Walter Murphy)?
4.9.2007 10:13pm
Hattio (mail):
Bruce Hayden,
How did you determine that this ticket agent was brain-dead? I mean, that's a pretty harsh judgment on somebody you only have a 2nd hand snippet of info on.
4.9.2007 10:14pm
NicholasV (mail) (www):
MusicLover, I understand someone hating Walter Murphy's music enough to put him on the "no-fly list", but Robert Johnson??? (see this comment above) It sounds like there is a hard-core music hater drawing up this list!
4.9.2007 10:39pm
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
How could the clerk possibly know why Murphy is on the list? It's not as if the airlines have access to the reason why the name is on the list; the Robert Johnson case suggests to me that the reason for why the names are on the list are not part of the database at all. And what are the odds that the clerk actually know who Murphy is? My guess is that the clerk made the smart-ass remark after Murphy start pulling a Do-You-Know-Who-I-Am.
4.9.2007 11:08pm
Russ (mail):
Visitor Again,

Mr. Murphy was NOT banned from flying. It takes some extra scrutiny to determine why he was on the list, and then he gets on an airplane.

Your argument that we should do it right or not at all is specious. We don't get murder trials all right either. Does that mean we should not throw people in jail for murder b/c some might get innocently caught up in it?

I still marvel that there are some who believe Mr. Murphy is some intellectual giant. He's such a giant that he seems to believe some ticket counter agent has control over and knowledge of how people get on the no-fly list. Is someone so gullible really who we want to hold up as a model of intellectual prowess?
4.9.2007 11:17pm
Kevin Murphy:
I'll bet that all the other Walter Murphys are overjoyed at finally knowing why THEY are on the no-fly list. Now, if I just new which KEVIN Murphy screwed it for the rest of us.
4.9.2007 11:36pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Anyone here want to defend the proposition that the No Fly List is

1. Efficient
2. Effective

Thought not.

But I do love how youse pile on to a veteran of the Marine Corps when he says something not so complementary about the current regulation. Even more amusing is to hear the cheers of the crowd for a politically correct, ineffective, bureaucratic regime.
4.9.2007 11:55pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Eli Rabbet: I'll happily defend it on both counts as there is currently nothing either more efficient or effective available.

Why don't you come up with a perfect solution? I'm sure TSA would appreciate a better solution to resolve a problem for which there is only the admittedly flawed process now in place.

Seriously, how would a better system work? You're not proposing no security checks, I assume.
4.10.2007 12:24am
neurodoc:
Eli Rabett, what exactly is the relevance to this discussion of Murphy's status as "a veteran of the Marine Corps? (Did you remind those critical of Rumsfeld that he was a Navy pilot?) And what crowd do you hear
"cheer(ing)...for a politically correct, ineffective, bureaucratic regime"?
4.10.2007 12:25am
advisory opinion:

That says a great deal about the American public, especially about the younger part of it, those under 50. You've been dumbed down to the point where you think ignorance is acceptable.

It also says a great deal that many think Professor Murphy has an inflated sense of self-importance because he takes umbrage at being told he is on a non-fly list and that it might be for political reasons. I don't care what the reason is; it's outrageous that he was told he could not fly.


Yes, but what do you think it says about the ignorance of someone who thought that Murphy was actually banned from flying? Is that acceptable?
4.10.2007 1:45am
dvorak:
It's outrageous that he was told he could not fly.


It's not outrageous at all and it's certainly not Bush's fault.
4.10.2007 2:11am
MJSgl (mail):
Funny, how most everyone here questioning the motives behind Mr. Murphy's travails seems pretty common-sensical (well, at least to this average Joe), yet I have not perceived that any of them have "gone to the mat" for the Bush Admin. or are readily inclined to sycophantically do so.

Yet, hyperbole and hyperventilation is quite common amongst those few here who are convinced that the Bush "regime" has inconvenienced a prof., well-known seemingly only within his own academic circles, on purpose or because of the incidental negatives of a security program (which arguably is not THE most effective or efficient).

Further, these sui disant guardians of free-speech neglect to consider that there are few (if any) documented examples of purposeful inclusion on the no-fly list for Administration dissenters like Prof. Murphy, while a media which would be positively ecstatic at the opportunity to report such incidents shockingly does not do so. Then again, I am sure all media have "agreed" to hold back in light of the Administration's "offer they couldn't refuse."
4.10.2007 8:24am
WILL FREISMUTH:
Please people.

The counter clerk told the customer
what the customer wanted to hear, in
order to shut him up and move him on.

Why Murphy is on the list, I don't know.
But the clerk was just trying to get
through his day with minimum problems.

Haven't any of you commenters ever been
a bartender or retail clerk?
4.10.2007 9:47am
thewagon:

Anyone here want to defend the proposition that the No Fly List is

1. Efficient
2. Effective

Thought not.


Wait a second... I thought that everyone working themselves into a lather over this were working on the assumption that the system was efficient and effective, and thus the problem? If it didn't work properly, then how could this guy get "banned" because of his political views?

Also, anyone whose chief witness is a ticket-agent for a commercial airline can't be too much of a legal genius, at least not in a real courtroom. For pete's sake, these are near bottom-rung employees of an industry that has embraced incompetence and inefficiency as virtue.
4.10.2007 11:04am
markm (mail):
The no-fly list obviously was adopted as just a list of names, without any kind of descriptions being attached. Otherwise, you wouldn't have two-year olds being matched to the list. That makes it a monumentally stupid idea - take the one thing that is easiest and most obvious for a terrorist to change, and use that to watch for terrorists!
4.10.2007 11:41am
frankcross (mail):
Well, it's fair to criticize him for his comments here, but just bear in mind that he is a remarkable academic. He's a political scientist who understands the Court much better than law profs. As for those of you who think that academics are trivial, tell it to Volokh, Adler, Somin, et al.
4.10.2007 12:14pm
ed o:
academics aren't trivial-it's just that they are often legends in their own mind. this one seems to fit the bill in full.
4.10.2007 2:31pm
ed o:
that probably impressed the ticket clerk-"Don't you know who I am, I'm Walter Murphy, I know more about the workings of the Court than just about anyone. I have tenure. I can say anything I want and do anything I want and I can't get fired. I can make or break the academic career of lowly assistant professors."
4.10.2007 2:35pm
Visitor Again:
Yes, but what do you think it says about the ignorance of someone who thought that Murphy was actually banned from flying? Is that acceptable?

A cheap shot and off the mark, too. He was banned from flying. His name was on a no-fly list and he was told he could not fly. Oh, I know he eventually managed to persuade the airline authorities that he should be allowed to board the flight despite the presence of his name on the list--I read his statement as reproduced on Jack Balkin's blog beofore posting here, unlike many commenters here--but that he was able to do so is beside the point. Were whether Murphy was eventually allowed to board the flight the point, he wouldn't still be complaining.

The point is that travel has become at the very least a hassle for many persons who do not present a security risk because their names have been placed on the no-fly list, which, among its other faults, fails to distinguish between people having the same names. A considerable number of persons who do not pose such a risk have actually been prevented from flying or at least delayed in flying, perhaps because they are not as persuasive or forceful as Murphy or because they lack his credentials. Once one's name is on the list, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get off it.

It is disappointing, if not surprising, that so many commenters here make light of a program that severely inhibits the exercise of a fundamental freedom, travel, and yet so dubiously serves security interests, and even more so that they try to ridicule, or at least belittle, a distinguished professor who dared to protest that deeply flawed program's application to him.
4.10.2007 6:04pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Eli just loves it when them big libertarians lick up to the big daddy state who protects them. For a bunch of guys in a lather that your house will be taken for eminent domain, your guns for whatever, you are remarkable blase about this Potemkin Program, the perfect expression of the Bush-Cheny administration, inefficient, ineffective, and bureaucratic.
4.10.2007 6:44pm
advisory opinion:
Visitor Again,


He was banned from flying.


Hyperbolic nonsense. Saying that he was "banned from flying" when he was allowed to get on the plane is as silly as saying that people who have had hip replacement surgery are "banned from flying" because they regularly fail metal detector tests.

False positives on the No-Fly List are not "banned" from flying. They just get flagged until the TSA can ascertain that they are false positives.


His name was on a no-fly list and he was told he could not fly. Oh, I know he eventually managed to persuade the airline authorities that he should be allowed to board the flight despite the presence of his name on the list . . . but that he was able to do so is beside the point.


It's "beside the point" that he was not actually banned from flying?

Again: Do you even know how the No-Fly List works? Perhaps if you weren't ignorant about the process you wouldn't have to base your outrage on the flippant, carelessly worded remarks of a counter clerk at the airport. (Not acceptable imo.)
4.11.2007 12:37am
Samizdat (mail) (www):
Ryan Singel is a bootlicking stooge. Professor Murphy, on the other hand, is a decorated Korean War veteran and retired Marine colonel. He tells his own story in an interview with Alex Jones of Genesis Communications Network. The interview, under way as I write, will be available from infowars.com by tomorrow (April 12). (See the calendars on the bottom of the infowars.com home page to download).

Death to the New World Order!

Life in prison for Cheney, Bush 43, Rumsfeld, Clinton 1 and *his* lieutenants, Bush 41 and his, etc.

See "911: the Road to Tyranny" at the Internet Archive.
4.11.2007 4:07pm
Enoch:
So, decorated Marine colonels are always right about everything, and must never be mocked or even questioned?
4.11.2007 10:53pm