A case over whether the government can require Jet Propulsion Laboratory employees to submit to background checks could reach the U.S. Supreme Court, sources said Tuesday.

The U.S. Solicitor General's office has filed a request asking the nation's highest court to review a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The panel ruled in favor of the 28 JPL employees who said their rights were infringed upon by required ongoing background checks.

The governments' attorneys have argued that the case would set a precedent that would destroy its ability to do background checks on federal employees.

"The ramifications of the decision are potentially dramatic," wrote Elena Kagan, the solicitor general, in the document requesting review of the case. "The decision prevents the routine background checks of many contract government employees and it casts a constitutional cloud over the background check process the government has used for federal civil service employees for 50 years."

It would take the votes of four of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices to hear the case.

Lawyers for the JPL employees have argued that the background checks, which include questions about drug use and treatment and an open-ended waiver releasing personal information to investigators, collected more information than the government needed.

Under federal law, any drug use admitted in those questions would not


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be admissible in court as evidence against the employees, which the Solicitor General's office has argued means employee privacy is protected.

The injunction ruling that stops employees from answering those questions applies to all of JPL's 5,000 low-security employees, not just the 28 who filed the lawsuit.

A lawyer representing the JPL employees could not be reached Tuesday.

Caltech, which manages JPL, was also a defendant in the case, but has not joined the government in requesting the Supreme Court review.

R. Alexander Pilmer, the lawyer representing Caltech, said he could not comment on the case.

dan.abendschein@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 4451