WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether the top US justice official is immune from lawsuits stemming from a crackdown on Muslims following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
case involves a suit filed against John Ashcroft, the attorney general
under former president George W. Bush, by Abdullah al-Kidd, a US
citizen detained for 15 days as a material witness in a probe of
A lower court ruled that Ashcroft, who is being sued
for violating the man's constitutional rights, is not immune from
litigation. An appeals court upheld that decision, which would allow
the case to go forward.
Ashcroft's attorneys argued that the
appeals court "committed a series of fundamental errors, the immediate
effect of which is to expose the former attorney general to burdensome
litigation and potential damages for the conduct of his subordinates."
lawyers maintained that in the aftermath of the worst terror strikes in
US history, "dozens of individuals, including many United States
citizens like respondent al-Kidd, were arrested as material witnesses
pursuant to a policy adopted and implemented by petitioner Ashcroft."
The brief argued that the actions violated the rights of al-Kidd and others.
"The impetus for arresting these individuals was not to secure their testimony for a criminal proceeding," it said.
"Rather, these were individuals whom the government viewed as suspects and wished to detain and investigate.
because the government lacked probable cause to arrest these
individuals on criminal charges, it had them arrested as material
witnesses, thereby circumventing the Fourth Amendment's traditional
probable cause standard and distorting the basic purpose of the
material witness statute."
The Supreme Court is expected to render its decision before the end of its term in June 2011