Ashcroft v. al-Kidd Case Brief

Facts of the Case

Respondent al-Kidd alleged that, after the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft instructed federal officials to detain terrorism suspects, which Ashcroft claimed that the federal material-witness statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3144, authorized. Al-Kidd claimed that this pretextual detention policy led to his material-witness arrest as he was boarding a plane to Saudi Arabia. To secure the warrant, federal officials had told a Magistrate Judge that information “crucial” to Sami Omar al-Hussayen’s prosecution would be lost if al-Kidd boarded his flight. Prosecutors never called al-Kidd as a witness, and (as he alleged) never meant to do so. Al-Kidd filed suit pursuant to, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), challenging the constitutionality of Ashcroft’s alleged policy. The District Court denied Ashcroft’s motion to dismiss on absolute and qualified immunity grounds. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the Fourth Amendment prohibited pretextual arrests absent probable cause of criminal wrongdoing, and that Ashcroft could not claim qualified or absolute immunity. Ashcroft filed a petition for certiorari review.




“Yes. The Supreme Court reversed the lower court order in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia. “Efficient and even-handed application of the law demands that we look to whether the arrest is objectively justified, rather than to the motive of the arresting officer,” Scalia wrote.Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a concurring opinion, in which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined as to Part I. Kennedy expressed concern that the court’s “holding is limited to the arguments presented by the parties and leaves unresolved whether the government’s use of the Material Witness Statute in this case was lawful.”Ginsburg filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Justices Breyer and Sotomayor joined. Ginsburg also addressed the Material Witness Statute and wrote that Al-Kidd’s “ordeal is a grim reminder of the need to install safeguards against disrespect for human dignity, constraints that will control officialdom even in perilous times.”Meanwhile, Justice Sotomayor filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Justices Ginsburg and Breyer joined. “Whether the Fourth Amendment permits the pretextual use of a material witness warrant for preventive detention of an individual whom the Government has no intention of using at trial is, in my view, a closer question than the majority’s opinion suggests,” Sotomayor declared.Justice Elena Kagan took no part in consideration of the case.”

Case Information

Citation: 563 US 731 (2011)
Granted: Oct 18, 2010
Argued: Mar 2, 2011
Decided: May 31, 2011
Case Brief: 2011