U.S. Supreme Court Issues Ruling in Background Screening Case

By Teresa Anderson


The government appealed the appellate ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that the screening requirements are valid and can help the government make informed employment decisions. For example, when addressing the open-ended questions used as part of the screening process, the Court noted that the “questions are reasonably aimed at identifying capable employees who will faithfully conduct the government’s business.” The Court went on to say that “asking an applicant’s designated references broad questions about job suitability is an appropriate tool for separating strong candidates from weak ones.”

The Court also noted that the methods used by the agency are pervasive in both the private and public sector. And it disagreed that the government should ask only questions that seem to be relevant or reasonable to the public. In the written opinion of the case, the Court said that “we reject the argument that the government, when it requests job-related personal information in an employment background check, has a constitutional burden to demonstrate that its questions are ‘necessary’ or the least restrictive means of furthering its interests.”

♦ Photo of U.S. Supreme Court by laura padgett/Flickr

NASA v Nelson SCOTUS.pdf261.8 KB


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