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Supreme Court Rules 2 Former High-Ranking Officials Cannot Be Held Accountable for Post-9/11 Immigration Detainee Claims

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (right) addresses a press conference with FBI Director Robert Mueller (left) on May 26, 2004 in Washington, D.C.(Credit: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court ruled former high-ranking officials in the George W. Bush administration, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, could not be held accountable in claims brought by non-citizens after 9/11.

The decision was 4-2.

The long-running civil rights lawsuit filed in 2002 against the former Bush administration officials by immigrants argued they were racially profiled and illegally detained after the attacks.

In the wake of the attacks, FBI dedicated more than 4,000 special agents to arrest and detain 762 non-citizens on charges that they had violated federal immigration laws.

In court papers, the government argued that “in light of their immigration status, it was … lawful to arrest and detain them pending their removal.”

But the class of about 80 Muslim, South Asian and Arab individuals who were held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn argued that the officials lacked any kind of individualized information that they were dangerous.

Rachel Meeropol, an attorney for the challengers, argued they were mistreated through a policy “crafted at the highest levels of government, to treat harshly Muslim non-citizens of Arab and South Asian descent, based on the false and pernicious assumption that the individuals with those characteristics might have some connection to terrorism.”

They claimed holding them in ultra-restrictive conditions violated their due-process rights.

Justice Stephen Breyer took the unusual step of reading his dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from the bench. He argued he would have allowed the plaintiffs’ claims to go forward, and he noted the plaintiffs were “shackled,” “slammed against walls” and “verbally abused.”

“History tells us of far too many instances where the executive or legislative branch took action during time of war that on later examination, turned out unnecessarily and unreasonably to have deprived American citizens of basic constitutional rights,” he said.