Ashcroft v. Iqbal

On October 28, 2008, CJA signed onto an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case brought against New York prison officials, Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller for human and civil rights abuses committed during the post-9/11 “round up” of Muslims and others who fit a “terrorist profile.”


The defendants argued before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District that they should be shielded from the lawsuit through the doctrine of qualified immunity. The court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss and rejected the qualified immunity defense.

On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s rulings on all counts except for the alleged due process violation. The court held that government officials enjoyed qualified immunity for due process claims, but not for the “serious allegations of gross mistreatment.”  The U.S. government, representing the defendants, petitioned for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs, authored by CJA partner Harold Koh, who has previously served as Dean of Yale Law School and Legal Advisor to the U.S. State Department, argued that the Supreme Court should affirm the Second Circuit’s decision and reject petitioners’ position that a heightened pleading standard should apply in situations in which plaintiffs seek to hold accountable “high-ranking” government officials.  We signed onto the brief because of our strong interest in ensuring the correct application of immunity standards for government officials.  We also have an interest in keeping civil pleading standards sufficient;y flexible for victims to obtain discovery necessary to establish official responsibility for unlawful conduct.


On May 18, 2009, in a 5 to 4 decision, the Court reversed and remanded.  Among other things, the Court held that Mr. Iqbal’s complaint failed to plead sufficient facts to state a claim for purposeful and unlawful discrimination. The parties settled out of court before the remand trial began.

Attached Documents

CJA Amicus Brief
28 Oct 08 Amicus Brief: CJA and Civil and Human Rights Groups
Related Documents
18 May 09 Supreme Court Opinion
May 08 Iqbal Plaintiff’s Brief in Opposition
30 Sep 04 U.S. Government’s Petition for Certiorari