Listen & Download

On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Ziglar v. Abbasi, which was consolidated with the cases Ashcroft v. Abbasi , and Hasty v. Abbasi. Ziglar v. Abbasi was part of a series of lawsuits brought by Muslim, South Asian, and Arab noncitizens who were detained after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and treated as “of interest” in the ensuing government investigation. These plaintiffs contended, among other things, that the conditions of their confinement violated their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. The defendants included high-level officials in the Department of Justice (DOJ) such as Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar, as well as various detention officials. Some of the parties reached settlements, and the district court eventually dismissed some of the allegations against the DOJ officials for failure to state a claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ Free Exercise claims, but otherwise reversed most of the district court’s judgment. Plaintiffs, the Second Circuit held, had adequately pleaded claims for violations of substantive due process, equal protection, the Fourth Amendment, and civil conspiracy, and Defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity. Defendants then sought, and the Supreme Court granted, a petition for writ of certiorari.

By a vote of 4-2, the Supreme Court reversed in part, and vacated and remanded in part, the judgment of the Second Circuit. In an opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that (1) the limited reach of actions brought under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents informs the decision whether an implied damages remedy should be recognized in this case; (2) considering the relevant special factors in this case, a Bivens-type remedy should not be extended to the "detention policy claims" -- the allegations that the executive officials and wardens violated the detainees' due process and equal protection rights by holding them in restrictive conditions of confinement, and the allegation that the wardens violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments by subjecting the detainees to frequent strip searches -- challenging the confinement conditions imposed on the detainees pursuant to the formal policy adopted by the executive officials in the wake of the September 11 attacks; (3) the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit erred in allowing the prisoner-abuse claim against Warden Dennis Hasty to go forward without conducting the required special-factors analysis; and (4) the executive officials and wardens are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to respondents' civil conspiracy claims. 

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III, IV–A, and V, in which the Chief Justice and Justices Thomas and Alito joined. Justice Kennedy also delivered an opinion with respect to Part IV–B, in which the Chief Justice and Justice Alito joined. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg joined. Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases. 

To discuss the case, we have David B. Rivkin, who is a Partner at Baker & Hostetler LLP.

[Return to the SCOTUScast menu]