Prof. Bennett Gershman has published a new blog post on The Huffington Post examining the Supreme Court’s recent ruling regarding official immunities. The case looked at then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s order to federal law enforcement agents to round up and detain suspected terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. About 1,200 people were arrested on the grounds that they were “material witnesses,” and many were held for months without being given a reason. Most were deported and none were ultimately charged with terrorism crimes.
One detainee, a native-born American named Abdullah al-Kidd, sued Ashcroft for violating his rights under the Fourth Amendment. Ashcroft sought dismissal of the suit, claiming he was immune from civil liability. The federal district judge denied Ashcroft’s motion, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, but the Supreme Court this week reversed those decisions and ordered the complaint dismissed.
Gershman writes, “Apart from the immunity issue, the Court did not resolve the troubling question of whether the Fourth Amendment is violated when the government perverts the federal material witness law by employing it not for its intended purpose — to preserve evidence by ensuring the testimony of a key witness — but for a prohibited and undisclosed purpose: to arrest and detain an innocent person for investigation.”
Read more here.