The Supreme Court ruled that illegal immigrants cannot personally sue FBI agents for their detainment in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
In a 4-2 decision, the Court vacated a ruling by the 2nd Circuit in the case of Ziglar v. Abbasi et al. The case involved six individuals of Arabic or South Asian descent who were detained during an investigation into whether they had ties to terrorism. The individuals were held in a Brooklyn federal facility and subsequently deported.
The group argued their Fifth Amendment rights had been violated and sought punitive damages. They sued former Bush-era executive officials, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar, as well as the facility's warden and assistant warden Dennis Hasty and James Sherman.
Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion of the Court with Justice Clarence Thomas filing a concurring opinion with the judgment. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito also concurred, while Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a joint dissenting opinion.
Kennedy wrote no law applies to the situation and Congress needs to take action to determine what should happen in future cases.
"The special factors here indicate that Congress, not the courts, should decide whether a damages action should be allowed," he wrote.
Kennedy's opinion referenced Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, a 1971 case which ruled that individuals could sue federal agents for violating their Fourth Amendment rights despite the lack of prior statute.
Kennedy urged caution with the judicial branch's role in setting precedent, writing "if a statute does not evince Congress' intent "to create the private right of action asserted, no such action will be created through judicial mandate."
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.