The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to decide whether high-ranking George W. Bush administration officials — including John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director — may be held liable for policies adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The case began as a class action in 2002 filed by immigrants, most of them Muslim, over policies and practices that swept hundreds of people into the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn on immigration violations in the weeks after the attacks. The plaintiffs said they had been subjected to beatings, humiliating searches and other abuses.The roundups drew criticism from the inspector general of the Justice Department, who in 2003 issued reports saying that the government had made little or no effort to distinguish between genuine suspects and Muslim immigrants with minor visa violations.
In its petition seeking Supreme Court review, the Obama administration urged the justices to put an end to the litigation.“The Court of Appeals concluded,” the petition said, “that the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement officers — a former attorney general of the United States and former director of the F.B.I. — may be subjected to the demands of litigation and potential liability for compensatory and even punitive damages in their individual capacities because they could conceivably have learned about and condoned the allegedly improper ways in which their undisputedly constitutional policies were being implemented by lower-level officials during an unprecedented national security crisis.”
Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the plaintiffs, said the cases, Ashcroft v. Turkmen, No. 15-1359 and two others, involved fundamental principles.“No one is above the law,” she said. “To suggest that the most powerful people in our nation should escape liability when they violate clearly established law defies the most fundamental principle of our legal system.”