WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court came to the aid of former Attorney General John Ashcroft on Monday and agreed to decide whether he and other high-level Bush administration officials are shielded from being sued by immigrants who say they were rounded up, beaten and abused after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The court voted to hear Ashcroft’s claim that he and FBI Director Robert Mueller are immune from lawsuits for their official actions.
A federal judge in Brooklyn and the U.S. appeals court in Manhattan had cleared the way for a Pakistani man to press his lawsuit against the people who were running the Justice Department in 2001.
Javaid Iqbal was arrested at his Long Island, N.Y., home on Nov. 2, 2001. He says he was beaten and abused over the next six months. No charges were filed against him, and he was released and deported to Pakistan.
He then filed a lawsuit against Ashcroft, Mueller and other officials, claiming they violated his constitutional rights by subjecting him to abuse and by discriminating against him because of his religion and nationality.
Ashcroft was in the charge of the Justice Department and U.S. immigration service in 2001, and he and Mueller led the government’s drive to arrest and question several hundred immigrants who were suspected of having ties to the network of hijackers.
The government held most of the immigrants on the grounds that they had violated the immigration laws by, for example, staying longer than their visas permitted. Iqbal initially was held on a charge of credit-card fraud, but he was cleared of any link to terrorism.
Under long-standing laws, persons in the United States can sue officials who knowingly violate their rights under the Constitution. Iqbal’s suit named Ashcroft and Mueller as well as the jailers who held him.
The judge and the U.S. court of appeals refused to dismiss the suit.
Bush administration lawyers appealed to the high court and argued that Cabinet-level officials should be immune from such claims. The court said it will hear the case of Ashcroft and Mueller v. Iqbal in the autumn.