Jacob Heilbrunn

The Obama-Bush Administration

Slippery slopes are something of a truism. But some slopes really are slippery, and their slipperiness can be a bad thing. Lawsuits against government officials are a case in point.

The Obama administration is weighing in on behalf of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom the ACLU is targeting. The specific case revolves around one Lavoni Kidd who converted to Islam and adopted the name Abdullah Al-Kidd. According to the Los Angeles Times' David G. Savage, a veteran legal journalist,

Lavoni Kidd, a former football star at the University of Idaho, was arrested and shackled at Washington's Dulles International Airport in March 2003. He was not taken into custody because he was suspected of a crime, but because he was a supposed "material witness" in another case.

Federal law permits the government in special situations to hold someone as a "material witness" in a pending case. Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union accused Ashcroft of a "gross abuse" of this authority. They say he
misused the law to arrest innocent people, even when the government lacked the required "probable cause."

The interesting thing about the case is that it is further evidence that the Obama administration, by and large, adopting the Bush administration's approach toward fighting terrorism. Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal says that the head of the Justice Department should enjoy "absolute immunity" from lawsuits. He has a point.

This truly is a slippery slope. If Ashcroft can be targeted, then almost any government official could come under the legal gunsights of a host of liberal or conservative organizations, eager to cow them into submission. The case of Henry Kissinger is an object lesson in the overreach of international law. There is no reason that the Supreme Court should countenance it on home territory, either. The odds are that it won't. As the Obama administration continues to wage the battle against terrorism, however, it increasingly finds itself in the improbable position of being on the side of the Bush administration. Ashcroft vs. Al-Kidd suggests that it's unlikely to change anytime soon.