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Case Basics
Docket No. 
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Robert M. Nelson, et al.
Decided By 
(Acting Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the petitioners)
(for the respondents)
Facts of the Case 

A 2004 Bush administration antiterrorism initiative extended background checks required for many government jobs to contract employees, including scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a research facility operated by the California Institute of Technology under a contract with NASA. Twenty- eight lab employees, who do not have security clearances and are not involved in classified or military activities, filed suit over what they considered to be overly intrusive background checks. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the background checks halted while the case continued. The divided court later declined an en banc review.


Does the government violate a federal contract employee's constitutional right to privacy by asking her whether she has received counseling or treatment for recent illegal drug use in the past year, or by asking her references if they have any reason to believe she is unsuited to work in a federal facility?

Decision: 8 votes for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Right to privacy

No. The court reversed the lower court decision and upheld the background checks that NASA uses for employees of companies working under contract in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a concurring opinion, which was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Thomas also filed his own concurring opinion. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the consideration or decision of the case.

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NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION v. NELSON. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <>.
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION v. NELSON, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 25, 2015).
"NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION v. NELSON," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015,