(CN) – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide if former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft can be sued for his policy of detaining Muslim and Arab men as “material witnesses” after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The high court said it will take up Ashcroft’s appeal of the 9th Circuit’s ruling last September allowing University of Idaho student Abdullah al-Kidd to sue Ashcroft in the wake of his post-Sept. 11 detention.
Al-Kidd accused Ashcroft of abusing a material witness statute to unfairly target Muslim and Arab men in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Al-Kidd was arrested at the Dulles International Airport in Virginia and was held for 16 days in high-security units. Authorities wanted him to testify against a fellow university student accused of visa fraud and having ties to a jihadist organization.
He claimed his two-week detention cost him a scholarship to study abroad.
The 9th Circuit panel in Seattle called the government’s use of witnesses after the terrorist attacks “repugnant to the Constitution and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history.”
The federal appeals court rejected Ashcroft’s claim that he is entitled to absolute immunity, because the detentions were a part of his job.
The full 9th Circuit declined to reconsider the panel ruling, despite a sharp eight-judge dissent.
The dissenting judges argued that al-Kidd’s arrest was valid, because he had contacts with someone who allegedly had ties to a jihadist organization.
“The majority strips Ashcroft of his official immunity,” a “troubling legal error,” 9th Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote.
Without comment, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Ashcroft’s appeal.