NASA v. Nelson, 562 U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. 746 (2011)

Twenty-eight contract employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (“JPL”), which is owned by NASA but operated by Cal Tech, had never been subjected to a government background investigation. In 2004, a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission prompted the President to order new, uniform identification standards for federal employees, including contractor employees. The Department of Commerce implemented this directive by mandating that contract employees with long-term access to federal facilities complete a standard background check. JPL informed employees that anyone failing to complete the background check process would be denied access to JPL and would face termination by Cal Tech. The JPL employees in this case filed suit challenging the background-check process as a violation of their constitutional right to informational privacy. The district court denied the employees’ motion for a preliminary injunction, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court. In this opinion, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, holding unanimously that the government has an interest in conducting basic background checks in order to ensure the security of its facilities and to employ a competent, reliable workforce to carry out the people’s business.