SCOTUS Rejects Former Detainee’s Prison Abuse Suit, 5-4

From Adam Liptak’s New York Times article about the ruling:

A Pakistani Muslim man who was arrested after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may not sue John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for abuses he said he suffered in a Brooklyn detention center, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, said a lawsuit filed by the man, Javaid Iqbal, must be dismissed at a preliminary stage because he failed to allege a plausible link between the officials’ conduct and the abuses he said he had suffered.

All that Mr. Iqbal’s suit plausibly suggested, Justice Kennedy wrote, “is that the nation’s top law enforcement officers, in the aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack, sought to keep suspected terrorists in the most secure conditions available until the suspects could be cleared of terrorist activity.”

Mr. Iqbal, a cable television installer on Long Island, was among thousands of Muslim men rounded up after the Sept. 11 attacks. Some were considered to be “of high interest,” and they were held in a special housing unit of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

Mr. Iqbal said he was kept in solitary confinement at the center, denied medical care and subjected to daily body-cavity searches, beatings and extreme temperatures. He said that he was called a terrorist and a “Muslim killer,” and that he lost 40 pounds during six months in the special unit.

He eventually pleaded guilty to identity fraud and was deported to Pakistan.

Mr. Iqbal sued more than 30 officials for mistreatment based on his religion and national background. Monday’s decision, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, No. 07-1015, concerned only Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Mueller.

Mr. Iqbal, Justice Kennedy wrote, failed to describe adequately how the actions of the two officials were connected to the mistreatment and discrimination he said he had suffered.
Justice David H. Souter, writing for himself and Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, said the allegations against the two officials in Mr. Iqbal’s lawsuit were specific enough to satisfy the requirements for initiating a lawsuit.

“Iqbal does not say merely that Ashcroft was the architect of some amorphous discrimination, or that Mueller was instrumental in some ill-defined constitutional violation; he alleges that they helped to create the discriminatory policy he has described,” Justice Souter wrote.

Justice Souter added that the majority had engaged in a sort of legal sleight of hand, ignoring a concession from the government that Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Mueller would be liable were Mr. Iqbal able to prove they actually knew of unconstitutional discrimination by their subordinates and were deliberately indifferent to it.

Instead of accepting that concession, Justice Souter continued, the majority decided that even proof of such knowledge was insufficient.

The pdf of the opinion is here.

Be sure to check out Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker article on Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., as well. Toobin calls Roberts “the Supreme Court’s stealth hard-liner.” Here is a quote from the first page:

Roberts’s hard-edged performance at oral argument offers more than just a rhetorical contrast to the rendering of himself that he presented at his confirmation hearing. “Judges are like umpires,” Roberts said at the time. “Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

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