On June 12, the case of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, with roots in Brooklyn, will come up before the US Supreme Court. The Court will consider a government request to overturn a Second Circuit decision that declined to dismiss a suit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller. The plaintiff alleges that Ashcroft and Mueller personally condoned plans to isolate all Arab and Muslim immigrants arrested near New York City in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the maximum security wing of the Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”) in Brooklyn.
The case involves a claim for damages by Javaid Iqbal, a Muslim Pakistani who was held for a time in a maximum security facility in Brooklyn after he was arrested by the FBI and immigration agents. He has since returned to Pakistan. Iqbal has not challenged the legality of his initial arrest, or his initial detention in the Brooklyn facility but contends that the conditions of his continuing confinement and his classification as a “high-interest” suspect based on ethnicity violated his rights. He argued that the sweep of Muslim men, reaching thousands of them as part of the official investigation of the 9/11 attacks, was based on racial and religious discrimination.
The Ashcroft-Mueller petition raises two questions:
1. Whether a conclusory allegation that a cabinet level officer or other high-ranking official knew of, condoned, or agreed to subject a plaintiff to allegedly unconstitutional acts purportedly committed by subordinate officials is sufficient to state individual-capacity claims against those officials under Bivens.
2. Whether a cabinet-level officer or other highranking official may be held personally liable for the allegedly unconstitutional acts of subordinate officials on the ground that, as high-level supervisors, they had constructive notice of the discrimination allegedly carried out by such subordinate officials.