Supreme Court Bars Inmate Suit for Destruction or Disappearance of Quran

In a 5 to 4 split decision, the Supreme Court has held that inmates can't sue prison guards for destruction of property under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The case is Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 06-9130.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia joined Thomas. The dissenters were Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.

"The seizure of property by an officer raises serious concerns for the liberty of our people and the act should not be read to permit appropriation of property without a remedy," Kennedy said.

Background on the case is here and the Court's opinion, authored by Clarence Thomas, is here.

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  • Display: Sort:
    what would happen (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Jen M on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 09:59:36 AM EST
    If the guards burned all the Holy Bibles they found?  

    God Would Punish Them? (none / 0) (#3)
    by squeaky on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 11:16:59 AM EST

    That's not really the issue, Jen (none / 0) (#2)
    by Simon on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 10:48:14 AM EST
    Jen, that would make no material distinction in this case. The issue here, generally-speaking, isn't what the property was, it's whether the federal government's broad waiver of sovereign immunity in FTCA allows prisoners to sue the government for a tort alleged to have been committed by prison guards. More particularly, the issue is that there is an exception to FTCA's waiver providing that the waiver doesn't apply to claims "arising in respect of ... the detention of any goods, merchandise, or other property by any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer." The question is whether that language means "any officer of customs/excise or any other law enforcement officer who is carrying out customs/excise duties" who detains property, or whether it means "any officer of customs/excise or any other law enforcement officer" who detains property. It's not necessarily an easy question - as the court notes, slip op. at 2-3 and n.1, in this case, the District court and the 11th circuit (the latter's panel unanimously) read §2680(c) the way the majority does today, as have the Ninth Circuit - not exactly a bastion of judicial conservatism - and the Fifth, Eighth, Tenth and Federal circuits. Meanwhile, the Second, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, and D.C. circuits read it more or less the way urged by the dissenters. This is a 5-4 decision, but as you'll see, this is not the usual five and the usual four. Some hesitation before rushing to judgement is in order.

    Maybe not the issue but it is a valid (none / 0) (#4)
    by kindness on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 01:04:19 PM EST
    corollary.  If it was a Bible, there would be hell to pay and this Supreme Court would have heard the case.

    Does that mean I'm stating that this Supreme Court isn't neutral?  Yes, it certainly does, and I think that's the point she was making.


    Pretty much (none / 0) (#5)
    by Jen M on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 01:28:45 PM EST
    but you said it better.

    Not really (none / 0) (#7)
    by Simon on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 02:00:03 PM EST
    If it was a Bible, there would be hell to pay and this Supreme Court would have heard the case.
    Um... This Supreme Court did "hear[] the case." That's why we have a decision. With all due respect, I don't think it's even a valid corollary. What the property was wasn't an issue relevant to the disposition of the case. Are you suggesting that if it was a Bible that was confiscated rather than a Koran, a prayer mat and some other personal effects, the Supreme Court would have ruled the other way? What basis do you have for that?

    clogged courts (none / 0) (#6)
    by diogenes on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 01:49:02 PM EST
    Having worked in a jail, I can assure you that allowing such suits would lead to endless groundless lawsuits filed by law library prisoners at no cost to themselves to harass the system.  

    Sounds good to me..... (none / 0) (#8)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 24, 2008 at 08:37:32 AM EST
    It doesn't seem right to let the system do all the harassing...anything that throws a wrench in the works of the system works for me.