A Monday Supreme Court ruling determined that officials who served in the George W. Bush administration cannot be sued for the detention and harsh treatment of Muslim immigrants following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, reports The New York Times.
The class-action lawsuit would have held top Bush administration officials, including former attorney general John Ashcroft and former FBI director Robert Mueller, who is now investigating possible collusion between the Trump administration and Russia, responsible for alleged racial and religious profiling and abuse of Muslim immigrants detained after the 2001 attacks.
“If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, then what happened to respondents in the days following September 11 was tragic,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the Supreme Court’s ruling. “Nothing in this opinion should be read to condone the treatment to which they contend they were subjected.”
Filed by six Muslim immigrants, who were among hundreds detained for minor immigration violations and claim they were subjected to abuses during their detention. They were all later deported due to their immigration status.
Although the Supreme Court did not condone that the way the respondents claim they were treated, they voted 4-2 with three justices not partaking to prevent the lawsuit from proceeding.
Justices John G. Roberts Jr., Samuel A. Alito Jr also joined the majority opinion in Ziglar v. Abbasi, while Justice Clarence Thomas joined most of it.
Three justices did not have a hand in the decision. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan recused themselves presumably for having been involved in the case previously, and Justice Neil M. Gorsuch had not joined the court in time to hear the argument.
On the behalf of the majority, Justice Kennedy concluded that Congress had the authority to decide whether suits against federal officials for money should be permitted, not the courts.
Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not agree with the decision, believing suits for money provided disincentive for federal misconduct.
“History tells us of far too many instances where the executive or legislative branch took actions during time of war that, on later examination, turned out unnecessarily and unreasonably to have deprived American citizens of basic constitutional rights,” wrote Justice Breyer in his dissent.
Even though he acknowledged that the Constitution gives power to the executive and legislative branches to protect national security, Breyer argued that courts should have say in the matter.
“But the Constitution also delegates to the judiciary the duty to protect an individual’s fundamental constitutional rights,” he wrote. “Hence when protection of those rights and a determination of security needs conflict, the court has a role to play.”