July 20, 2011
On May 31, 2011 the Supreme Court announced its decision in Ashcroft v. al-Kidd. The question in this case was "whether a former Attorney General enjoys immunity from suit for allegedly authorizing federal prosecutors to obtain valid material-witness warrants for detention of terrorism suspects whom they would otherwise lack probable cause to arrest."
In an opinion delivered by Justice Scalia, the Court held the following by a vote of 8-0: First, "an objectively reasonable arrest and detention of a material witness pursuant to a validly obtained warrant cannot be challenged as unconstitutional on the basis of allegations that the arresting authority had an improper motive." Second, "[then-Attorney General] Ashcroft did not violate clearly established law;" therefore he "deserves qualified immunity."
Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito joined Justice Scalia's opinion. Justice Kennedy filed a concurring opinion, which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor joined as to Part I. Justice Ginsburg filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, which Justices Breyer and Sotomayor joined. Justice Sotomayor filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, which Justices Ginsburg and Breyer joined. Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
To discuss the case, we have Richard A. Samp, who is Chief Counsel at the Washington Legal Foundation.