Supreme Court limits suits by post-9-11 detainees

The US Supreme Court ruled (PDF)  4-2 on June 19 in Ziglar v. Abbasi that Muslim men detained in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks cannot sue top US officials. The three consolidated cases center on the arrest and detention of men illegally present in the US at the time of 2001 terror attacks. The men claimed that former US attorney general John Ashcroft, former FBI director Robert Mueller and a former Immigration & Naturalization Services commissioner confined them despite knowing they had no ties to terrorism. In an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court noted that the men were mistreated:

If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, then what happened to respondents in the days following September 11 was tragic. Nothing in this opinion should be read to condone the treatment to which they contend they were subjected. The question before the Court, however, is not whether petitioners’ alleged conduct was proper, nor whether it gave decent respect to respondents’ dignity and well-being, nor whether it was in keeping with the idea of the rule of law that must inspire us even in times of crisis.

However, the court found that plaintiffs could not bring a Bivens¬†claim challenging the detention policy. The court remanded the claim against the warden at Brooklyn’s¬†Metropolitan Detention Center¬†regarding detainee treatment to a lower court. But the high court also found that the officials were entitled to qualified immunity against claims under 42 USC ¬ß 1985(3).

Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined. Three justices took no part in the case. (Justices Sotomayor and Kagan recused themselves, and Justice Gorsuch had not yet taken his seat.) This is the third case where the court has ruled for Ashcroft in suits against him and other top officials for conduct following the 9-11 attacks.

From Jurist, June 19. Used with permission.