Media for Ashcroft v. Al-KiddAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 2011 in Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 31, 2011 in Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd
At the time of al-Kidd's arrest, not a single judicial opinion had held that pretext could render an objectively reasonable arrest pursuant to a material-witness warrant unconstitutional.
The Court of Appeals made up for that shortcoming by citing a District Court's footnoted dictum suggesting that the use of material -- material-witness warrants to detain suspect "is an illegitimate use of the statute" and mentioning Ashcroft by name.
We find that reasoning extraordinary.
The footnoted dictum falls far short of what is necessary to clearly establish the law even when that dictum mentions the defendant by name.
The Court of Appeals also found clearly established law lurking in the broad "history and purposes of the Fourth Amendment," and in several prior opinions of this Court.
As to the former, we have repeatedly told courts -- and the Ninth Circuit in particular -- not to define clearly established law of such a high level of generality.
And as to the latter, the Court of Appeals seems to have cherry-picked the aspects of our opinions that gave colorable support to the proposition that the unconstitutionality of the action here was clearly established while ignoring numerous statements that foreshadow today's Fourth Amendment holding.
We have held the qualified immunity protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law."
Ashcroft deserves neither label because Ashcroft did not violate clearly established law, we need not address the more difficult question of whether he enjoys absolute immunity.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings.
Justice Kennedy has filed a concurring Opinion in which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor joined in part.
Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justices Breyer, and Sotomayor joined.
Justice Sotomayor has also filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justices Ginsburg, and Breyer joined.
Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.