Splitting 5-4, the Supreme Court on Monday threw out a claim that two top Bush Administration officials adopted a specific policy of racial and ethnic discrimination in a roundup and detention of hundreds of men of Arab  descent following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  The lawsuit, the Court ruled, did not cite specific enough factual grounds for a claim of intentional bias by former Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and then-and-current FBI director Robert Mueller.  The ruling came in Ashcroft, et al., v. Iqbal, et al. (07-1015)

The Court’s ruling, however, did not declare legal immunity for Ashcroft or Mueller — or, for that matter, lower-ranking officials who allegedly carried out discriminatory policies sent down from the top.  Rather, it dealt only with the requirements that had to be made in the initial lawsuit to show that the selection of those to be rounded up, and their alleged mistreatment in a Manhattan jail, were the result of race, religious or national origin bias, in order to survive a motion to dismiss the case at the outset.

 The Court, in fact, left it to the Second Circuit Court to decide in the first instance whether to allow those who brought the case to amend their lawsuit in hopes of bolstering it. The individual whose name identifies the case, Javald Iqbal, a Muslim Pakistani, has since been deported to his home country.  He and others involved in the post-9/11 “sweep” were held in a New York City jail where, they claimed, they were subjected to torture and to religious bias.  Their lawsuit sought money damages in order to hold Ashcroft, Mueller and others accountable for the mistreatment the detainees claimed.

In a second ruling on Monday, the Court ruled, over two Justices’ dissents, that federal law does not require an employer to set current pension benefits at a level that will make up for a denial of work credit for maternity leave for pregnant workers, when such a denial  was not illegal in the past when it occurred.  Neither the law that pre-dated the case nor a new law on job bias made it illegal for a company to decline to upgrade benefits to account for past employment actions that were legal at the time.

Such a denial was not a form of discrimination based on sex under the law as it existed prior to Congress’s passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, the Court said.  Failing to make up for the past denial, it concluded, was a legitimate choice to make in a pension system that was not intentionally discriminatory. The decision came in the case of AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen, et al. (07-543).

Posted in Ashcroft, Former ATT’Y Gen. v. Iqbal, Everything Else