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Pilot v. Airline Case Goes To Supreme Court

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After an Air Wisconsin pilot was fired from his job and boarded a commercial flight to go home, his former employers alerted the TSA that he might be armed and mentally unstable, launching a legal dispute that made it to the Supreme Court this week. William Hoeper was fired in 2004 after he failed several simulator tests. Both sides agree he was upset, yelled at the instructor, and said he would complain to his union about unfair treatment. After dropping him off at the airport to catch a United flight, Air Wisconsin officials grew concerned and called the TSA. Hoeper was taken off his flight and detained. A Colorado court ruled in Hoeper's favor, but the airline appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming it should have legal immunity if it raises what it believes to be legitimate air-safety concerns, even if they turn out to be false.

According to Pete Williams, an NBC News correspondent who was present at the justices' debate, the court was concerned that Air Wisconsin had gone too far, but "seemed to be searching for a way to rule without discouraging other airlines from reporting behavior they find troubling." A total victory for Hoeper appears "unlikely," Williams said. The Court is not expected to announce a decision in the case until June. A complete transcript of the court's discussion (PDF) is posted online.

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