Robert Barnes
Washington Post
June 1, 2011

Former attorney general John D. Ashcroft cannot be sued personally for allegedly misusing his power to detain an American Muslim in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, crackdown on suspected terrorists, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday.

But the decision exposed sharp differences among the justices about whether the government went too far when it used a statute meant to ensure that witnesses show up for trial. Civil libertarians alleged that the government used the statute to imprison those whom it suspected, but could not prove, had committed a crime.

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The court has long protected government officials from personal liability for their official actions unless it can be shown that they have violated a person’s constitutional rights and that the right was “clearly established” at the time of the conduct.

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