The Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that former Attorney General John Ashcroft can’t be held liable for the detention of an American Muslim. Abdullah al-Kidd, an American citizen, who was detained as a material witness two years after the 9/11 attacks, even though he had cooperated with the FBI and was never charged with a crime, NPR reports.
A separate opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by 3 other justices, noted that the scope of the material witness statute “is uncertain.” Would it, for example, allow the detention of a law-abiding citizen who is willing to testify if asked, or if subpoenaed? The opinion seems to suggest that a separate lawsuit by al-Kidd against FBI agents might prevail. Constitutional law expert Tom Goldstein said the Kennedy opinion holds the door open “for a later decision that says, ‘You can’t use the material witness statute just to hold anybody you like, and if you lie to the magistrate you can get sued for that, too.’ “