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. 731 (more)
131 S. Ct. 2074; 179 L. Ed. 2d 1149; 2011 U.S. LEXIS 4021
Prior history Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d 949 (9th Cir. 2009)
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
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
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. 731 (2011),[1] is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft could not be personally sued for his involvement in the detention of a U.S. citizen in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.


The plaintiff, Abdullah 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 Abdullah al-Kidd.[2] Al-Kidd was arrested by federal agents in 2003 at Dulles International Airport.[3] He was travelling to Saudi Arabia to attend school. He was held for two weeks under the federal material-witness statute[4] 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.[2] 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.[2]

The federal government said that Ashcroft has absolute immunity from such civil suits because he was acting within the scope of his duties as US Attorney General. In the alternative, Ashcroft has qualified immunity that prevents such suits unless the official violated a right that was clearly established at the time of the violation.[2]

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.[5][6] On October 18, 2010, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Ashcroft's appeal of the Ninth Circuit's ruling.[2]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

On May 31, 2011, the Supreme Court, in an 8–0 ruling,[7] 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. In the majority opinion written by Justice Scalia, the court ruled that "Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions. When properly applied, it protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law. Ashcroft deserves neither label" (internal citation omitted).[1]

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.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731 (2011).  This article incorporates public domain material from this U.S government document.
  2. ^ a b c d e Barnes, Robert (October 19, 2010). "Supreme Court to consider Ashcroft bid for immunity". Washington Post. p. A2.
  3. ^ "Constitutional Law--Arrest and Detention Under the Material Witness Statute--Objectively Reasonable Arrest Did Not Violate Fourth Amendment". The Mississippi Law Journal. 81 (3).
  4. ^ 18 U.S.C. § 3144
  5. ^ Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d 949 (9th Cir. 2009).
  6. ^ "John Ashcroft can be sued for wrongful detention". September 5, 2009. Retrieved March 16, 2010.
  7. ^ "SCOTUSblog: Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd". Retrieved 2011-11-28.

External links[edit]