Ashcroft v. al-Kidd

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Ashcroft v. al-Kidd
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 2, 2011
Decided May 31, 2011
Full case name John D. Ashcroft, Petitioner v. Abdullah al-Kidd
Citations 563 U.S. ___ (more)
131 S. Ct. 2074
United States Attorney General John D. Ashcroft could not be personally sued for his involvement in the federal detention of Abdullah al-Kidd, an American citizen, in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Scalia, joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito
Concurrence Kennedy, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor (part I)
Concurrence Ginsburg, joined by Breyer, Sotomayor
Concurrence Sotomayor
Concur/dissent Ginsburg, Breyer
Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. ___ (2011), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that United States Attorney General John D. Ashcroft could not be personally sued for his involvement in the detention of an American citizen in the wake of the September 11 attacks.


The plaintiff, Abudullah al-Kidd (born Lavoni T. Kidd in Wichita, Kansas), is an American citizen and was a prominent football player at the University of Idaho. While at college, Kidd converted to Islam and adopted the name Abudullah al-Kidd.[1] Al-Kidd was arrested by federal agents in 2003 at Dulles International Airport. He was travelling to Saudi Arabia to attend school. He was held for two weeks under the federal material-witness statute[2] and controlled by supervised release for 13 months because he was to testify in the trial of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen. The latter was tried and acquitted on charges of supporting terrorist organizations.

At the time of al-Kidd's arrest, the FBI Director Robert S. Mueller told Congress that it was one of the FBI's "success" stories.[1] Al-Kidd was never charged or called as a witness, and he was ultimately released.

Al-Kidd filed suit against John Ashcroft, who was U.S. Attorney General from 2001 to 2005. Al-Kidd alleges that he was denied access to a lawyer, shackled, and strip-searched. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented al-Kidd, claim that he is one of 70 Muslim men who were similarly treated.[1]

The federal government said that Aschroft has absolute immunity from such civil suits because he was acting within the scope of his duties as US Attorney General. In the alternative[further explanation needed], Ashcroft has qualified immunity that prevents such suits unless the official acted in violation of the complainant's constitutional rights[contradictory].[1]

In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that Ashcroft could personally be sued and held responsible for al-Kidd's wrongful detention.[3] On October 18, 2010, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Ashcroft's appeal of the Ninth Circuit's ruling.[1]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

On May 31, 2011, the Supreme Court, in an 8–0 ruling,[4] stated that al-Kidd's lawyers had not met the high burden of proof needed to show that Attorney General Ashcroft could be personally sued, that he was directly involved or had explicit knowledge of the events (suggesting the matter was handled mostly by distant subordinates). The ACLU had sued him personally because it is very hard to sue a senior agent of the government in his or her official capacity (unless an individual commits a felony or other serious crime, in which case an elected official may be impeached) because American government bodies enjoy immunity from being sued. Justice Kagan did not participate in the case as she had previously worked on the government's preparation of its case while serving in the Obama administration.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e Barnes, Robert (October 19, 2010). "Supreme Court to consider Ashcroft bid for immunity". Washington Post. p. A2. 
  2. ^ 18 U.S.C. § 3144
  3. ^ "John Ashcroft can be sued for wrongful detention". September 5, 2009. Retrieved March 16, 2010. 
  4. ^ "SCOTUSblog: Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd". Retrieved 2011-11-28. 
  5. ^ "Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd Official Opinion" (PDF). US Supreme Court. May 31, 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-18.