Settlement in Arabic T-Shirt Case Involving Raed Jarrar:

FoxNews reports — citing Agence France-Presse — that "A man who was forced to cover a shirt displaying Arabic writing during a JetBlue domestic flight three years ago was awarded $240,000 in damages." This is Raed Jarrar, who was allegedly "approached by [TSA] security officials who told him to remove his T-shirt with the words 'We will not be silent' as he waited near the front of a JetBlue flight at JFK Airport because it apparently made other passengers feel uncomfortable." Two thoughts:

1. If the facts are as the complaint alleges (and they may well be), then this strikes me as pretty clearly unconstitutional action by the government: Jarrar was ordered by government agents to refrain from engaging in certain speech simply because some people were made "uncomfortable." That strikes me as a pretty clear violation of either the First Amendment or the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause.

To be sure, the restriction was based on the language in which the message was written, and not based on the meaning of the sentence. But either the restriction was based on the inference that the wearer was an Arab, or based on the symbolic statement that he identified as an Arab or sympathized with Arab speakers. In either case, it would be unconstitutional, again if the facts were as Jarrar alleged.

2. I think it's a mistake to say that Jarrar "was awarded $240,000 in damages." "Awarded," I think, implies a court order based on a judgment that the plaintiff was legally in the right. (Likewise, as reader Victor Steinbok suggests, as to the references to "the decision" and, to a lesser extent, to "reparations." I suppose "decision" could refer to a decision to settle, but that's not what it usually means in discussion of an "award," and in the absence of a specific reference to settlement.)

What happened here is simply a settlement of a lawsuit "expressly on the basis of no admission of liability or fault or wrongdoing or responsibility ..., any such liability or fault or wrongdoing or responsibility being expressly denied by Defendants." So it may well be that Jarrar was wronged, and the defendants settled because they were afraid that this would indeed be so found in court. Or it may be that they thought they were in the right but didn't want to spend more money, time, or effort at this, or to the run risk of losing at trial (even if they thought they should win). One way or another, there was no decision by the court on the merits. And I don't think that "was awarded $240,000 in damages" is likely to reliably convey to readers what actually happened here.

To their credit, the New York Post, the New York Times City Room blog (citing the New York Post), and the Washington Post correctly described this as a settlement.