No Immunity for Aschroft:

Yesterday, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that former Attorney General John Ashcroft is not entitled to absolute or qualified immunity against a lawsuit by Abdullah Kidd, who alleges he was unlawfully detained under the federal material witness statute in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The opinion, but Judge Milan Smith, begins:

According to the allegations of his first amended complaint, Plaintiff-Appellee Abdullah al-Kidd (al-Kidd), a United States citizen and a married man with two children, was arrested at a Dulles International Airport ticket counter. He was handcuffed, taken to the airport’s police substation, and interrogated. Over the next sixteen days, he was confined in high security cells lit twenty-four hours a day in Virginia, Oklahoma, and then Idaho, during which he was strip searched on multiple occasions. Each time he was transferred to a different facility, al-Kidd was handcuffed and shackled about his wrists, legs, and waist. He was eventually released from custody by court order, on the conditions that he live with his wife and in-laws in Nevada, limit his travel to Nevada and three other states, surrender his travel documents, regularly report to a probation officer, and consent to home visits throughout the period of supervision. By the time al-Kidd’s confinement and supervision ended, fifteen months after his arrest, al-Kidd had been fired from his job as an employee of a government contractor because he was denied a security clearance due to his arrest, and had separated from his wife. He has been unable to obtain steady employment since his arrest.

Al-Kidd was not arrested and detained because he had allegedly committed a crime. He alleges that he was arrested and confined because former United States Attorney General John Ashcroft (Ashcroft), subordinates operating under policies promulgated by Ashcroft, and others within the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), unlawfully used the federal material witness statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3144, to investigate or preemptively detain him. Ashcroft asserts that he is entitled to absolute and qualified immunity against al-Kidd’s claims. We hold that on the facts pled Ashcroft is not protected by either form of immunity, and we affirm in part and reverse in part the decision of the district court.

Judge Smith was joined by Judge David Thompson. Judge Carlos Bea concurred in part and dissented in part.

Howard Bashman rounds up press coverage here.