Supreme Court Adds Lawsuit Against Former AG Ashcroft to Docket

October 18, 2010
The Supreme Court may "decide whether former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft is entirely shielded from claims that he misused the law to arrest terrorism suspects under false pretenses," reports the Los Angeles Times' David Savage.

In Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd, the high court today announced it will hear an appeal of a federal court ruling that said a lawsuit against Ashcroft could proceed. As noted by Savage, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to dismiss Abdullah al-Kidd's lawsuit against Ashcroft. The appeals court said it was "repugnant to the Constitution" for the government to maintain that it "has the power to arrest and detain or restrict American citizens for months on end, in sometimes primitive conditions, not because they have committed a crime, but merely because the government wants to investigate them for possible wrongdoing."

Al-Kidd was arrested by federal officials at Dulles international Airport in 2003 and held as a "material witness" in another case. Kidd, a U.S. citizen, was eventually released. Represented by the ACLU, Al-Kidd sued Ashcroft alleging that his civil rights had been violated. His lawsuit says he was "strip-searched repeatedly and shackled for more than two weeks in a high-security cell where the lights were kept on," the Times reports.

In a press statement regarding the high court's decision to hear the case, the ACLU asserts that Al-Kidd was "released under onerous conditions that included confining his travel to four states, surrendering his passport and reporting to probation officers."

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and lead attorney for al-Kidd, said "Arresting and detaining someone for an extended period of time without probable cause to believe he violated the law goes against the most basic principles on which our country is founded. The appeals court made it very clear that former Attorney General Ashcroft could be held personally responsible if he used the material witness law to circumvent the Constitution's longstanding rule that a suspect may not be arrested without probable cause of wrongdoing."

The Obama administration appealed the Ninth Circuit's decision, arguing for absolute immunity from prosecution for top law enforcement officials.

[image via Gage Skidmore]