Oral argument: Mar. 2, 2011
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Sept. 4, 2009)
ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY, QUALIFIED IMMUNITY, MATERIAL WITNESS WARRANT, FOURTH AMENDMENT
The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Respondent Abdullah al-Kidd as a material witness in a terrorism case. Al-Kidd sued the former United States Attorney General, Petitioner John Ashcroft, alleging that he used the material witness statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3144, as a pretext to hold and investigate al-Kidd as a terrorism suspect in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Ashcroft asserted absolute immunity, claiming that the use of a material arrest warrant constituted a prosecutorial function. He also claimed qualified immunity, on the grounds that there was no established constitutional violation for using a material arrest warrant at the time of the arrest. Al-Kidd contends that Ashcroft is not entitled to either form of immunity because the arrest had an investigative function and no reasonable official could believe that a material witness warrant would authorize the arrest of a suspect without any intent to use the suspect as a witness. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Ashcroft was entitled to neither absolute nor qualified immunity. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine the protection available to government officials by resolving the issue of when the government can use material witness warrants in making arrests.