SCOTUS Slightly Limits Immunity Claims For Top Bush Officials

An important naitonal-security related Supreme Court decision out this morning, Ashcroft, et al., v. Iqbal, et al., is being interpreted in various ways. 


The topline is that the Court refused to sanction a class-action lawsuit against then-Attorney General John Aschroft filed by Muslim and people of Arab descent who were taken into custody after 9/11, allegedly roughed up and deported. But the decision does not grant Ashcroft or any official an immunity from such suits in the future. In a 5 to 4 ruling, the court held that the plaintiffs didn't establish a chain of evidence that linked the attorney general or other government official to the specific actions that caused them harm. The court did not say whether the 2nd circuit court of appeals, which was sympathetic to the deportees, could allow the plaintiffs to reargue the case and produce more evidence that meets the criteria. 

 The case will make it harder for plaintiffs to establish jurisdiction, as the court held that "conculsory allegations" -- those based on speculation and legal arguments, rather than esablished facts, are not sufficient in and of themselves to trigger a precedental threshold for prosecuting government officials. Under Bivens, government officials have "qualified immunity"   for acts of government committed in their name if they can demonstrate that a reasonable person would have believed that their actions were constitutional at the time.

Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. He was joined by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas. 
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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