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Case Summary & History

Additional Civil Rights

Case: Iqbal v. Ashcroft

STATUS: Loss, U.S. Supreme Court

Pakistani national Javaid Iqbal was arrested in New York as part of a post-September 11 dragnet by federal officials that targeted Arab men, among others. The U.S. detained Iqbal, subjecting him to beatings, frequent invasive body searches, and other forms of mistreatment, and often confiscated his Koran and forbade his participation in Friday prayers. NCLR has a strong interest in ensuring that all persons receive the protections of the basic civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and is concerned about government treatment of individuals, racial/ethnic targeting, and religious freedom violations. NCLR joined an amicus brief opposing the government’s efforts to make it more difficult for civil rights plaintiffs to discover information about higher government officials who set and oversee policies that violate people’s rights.

On May 18, 2009, the Supreme Court ruled 5- 4 against Iqbal. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, held that Iqbal’s pleadings were insufficient to show that former FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Attorney General John Ashcroft violated the constitutional rights of Arab Americans detained in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Plaintiffs must plead that each government official acted in a way that violates the Constitution,” rejecting the approach advocated for by the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights and the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic National Litigation Project at Yale Law School and civil rights groups, including NCLR. The officials must have acted for the purpose of discriminating on account of race, religion, or national origin, not for a neutral reason.

Justice Souter dissented, joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Stevens, said Iqbal should have been permitted to proceed with his case. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals next decides whether to permit Iqbal to amend his complaint and begin anew.

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