In the wake of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, a number of suits were filed claiming physical and mental abuse of Arab Muslims kept in a Brooklyn, N.Y., detention center.
The Bush administration has appealed lower court decisions that might compel testimony and evidence from former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and current FBI Director Robert Mueller.
U.S. Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre argued "context does matter" in deciding whether top officials who acted to preserve "the effective functioning of our government" should be dragged into court cases, SCOTUSBLOG.com reported.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. was the most openly sympathetic court member to Garre's argument, SCOTUSBLOG said, but a majority of the court seemed concerned about the Cabinet or other high officials having strict liability for their actions after a major terror attack threatened national security.
A lawyer for detainee Javaid Iqbal, Alexander A. Reinert of Yonkers, N.Y., argued that a case involving top U.S. officials as plaintiffs was no different that a suit against a corporate president. But the report said Reinert's argument met with skepticism from Roberts and other court members.
Appearing to be a distinct minority, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter made comments from the bench supporting Reinert's claims.
The Supreme Court should decide the case before its summer recess.
(Ashcroft vs. Iqbal, No. 07-1015)