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Breaking: Supreme Court Ruling re Ashcroft and Mueller

Breaking news published in WAPO article released 05/18/2009 12:15 p.m. EST: [excerpts from page 1 of 2]

Supreme Court Rules Former Detainee Lawsuit Cannot Proceed
By Robert BarnesWashington Post Staff Writer Monday, May 18, 2009; 12:15 PM

The Supreme Court ruled today that former attorney general John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller may not be sued by Arab Muslims who were seized in this country after the 2001 terrorist attacks and allege harsh treatment because of their religion and ethnicity.

This Story: High Court Declines to Hear Jefferson Appeal
Supreme Court Rules Former Detainee Lawsuit Cannot Proceed

Latest Coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled 5 to 4 that the top officials are not liable for the actions of their subordinates absent evidence that they ordered the allegedly discriminatory activity.

The decision followed the court’s ideological split between conservatives and liberals, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy siding with the conservatives and writing the opinion.


The suit against Ashcroft and Mueller was brought by a Pakistani citizen living legally in the country when he was arrested in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Javaid Iqbal was held in solitary confinement in a section of a Brooklyn prison known as Admax-Shu, for "administrative maximum special housing unit," where he said he was subjected to numerous beatings and strip searches. He was convicted of document fraud and deported to Pakistan but cleared of any involvement in terrorism.

An Egyptian Muslim who was also part of the suit, Ehad Elmaghraby, settled with the government for $300,000. Similar suits are pending. Iqbal’s case names prison guards, FBI agents, the warden of the prison — who was the subject of a critical report from the Justice Department inspector general — up to Ashcroft, who was attorney general at the time of the attack. Iqbal says policies formulated by Ashcroft and Mueller singled him out as a suspect of "high interest" solely because of his nationality and religion.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York acknowledged that top government officials carry immunity but decided it was at least "plausible" that Ashcroft and Mueller were responsible for, or knew about, the discriminatory actions Iqbal alleges. It said the suit could go forward with evidence-gathering from the lower-level officials in the case, and then a judge could decide whether there was reason to keep the two top officials in the suit.

But Kennedy said that decision was wrong, and Iqbal had no plausible claims that Ashcroft and Mueller knew of or put in place a discriminatory policy. His claims "amount to nothing more than a formulaic recitation of the elements of a constitutional discrimination claim," Kennedy wrote. Kennedy said it was logical that the largest law enforcement investigation in the nation’s history focused on Arab Muslims because of the identities of the Sept. 11 attackers. "It should come as no surprise that a legitimate policy directing law enforcement to arrest and detain individuals because of their suspected link to the attacks would produce a disparate, incidental impact on Arab Muslims, even though the purpose of the policy was to target neither Arabs nor Muslims," he wrote.


Reminder: this is only parts of page 1 of 2 pages. If link does not work, I will repeat it in comments.

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