The Electronics Ban Legal On Flights Is Likely Legal

by Joseph D. Lyons
Matt Cardy/Getty Images News/Getty Images

There has been a lot of pushback on President Donald Trump's two travel bans — and both have been blocked by the courts as discriminatory. But now there's another ban affecting travelers from Muslim-majority nations, and it might not be as easy to stop. News broke Monday of an electronics ban for U.S.-bound flights from eight Muslim-majority countries. Passengers on these flights will need to check all electronics larger than phones, no matter where they're from. So is this electronics ban legal? Likely, yes, it at least has a much better chance than the travel bans.

It's a little too early to say definitively, though. The electronics ban was just officially announced Tuesday at 3 a.m. ET, and airlines have 96 hours to put it into place. Thus, there hasn't been much talk of its legality. However, the reason alone for the ban could be a big argument in favor of its legality — in contrast to the travel bans. After writing the travel ban executive order, Trump said it was "done for the security of our nation, the security of our citizens," but that came after his many campaign promises to ban Muslims, and thus the court was a bit skeptical.

This time, however, the ban comes not from Trump himself but the Department of Homeland Security, and the reasoning could keep it safe from legal challenges. Reuters reported Monday that the ban comes in response to a specific terrorism threat from several weeks ago. The government has been working since to develop a response. Therefore, there's a rational basis for the ban, not just a discriminatory order.

Also of note for its legality is that the ban affects everyone on those flights — not just citizens of certain countries. Even American citizens who are traveling from the selected airports will be required to check their larger electronics. It's not singling out individuals, but rather these specific airports and countries. One aviation expert told the Associated Press that this could be because there are worries that airport or airline personnel could be involved in a plot, or that the airport security is not strict enough.

In any case, this is about an actual security situation — not one invented by the Trump administration. That should bode well for its legality. The specifics of the threat are not confirmed, but CNN pointed to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as the possible group behind the threat. A U.S. official told CNN that the group has been trying to make bombs with little metal content. They're also reportedly the only group actively targeting airlines.

The final potential wronged group by the action are these Middle Eastern and African airlines themselves. This could put them at a disadvantage to European and American airlines that don't face the ban. However, a U.S. official told CNN that American airlines are not being affected because they don't fly to these destinations.

So bring a book or load some podcasts onto your cell phone; this electronics ban likely isn't going anywhere.