Ninth Circuit holds for John Yoo in lawsuit by Jose Padilla

A unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit (Fisher, Smith, Pallmeyer (dj, NDIll, by designation)) held today that former OLC Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo is entitled to qualified immunity in the lawsuit brought by former detainee Jose Padilla.  If you’re just tuning in, the first two paragraphs set forth the nature of the lawsuit and the court’s reasoning in some detail:

In this lawsuit, plaintiffs Padilla and his mother, Estela Lebron, seek to hold defendant John Yoo, who was the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from 2001 to 2003, liable for damages they allege they suffered from these unlawful actions. Under recent Supreme Court law, however, we are compelled to conclude that, regardless of the legality of Padilla’s detention and the wisdom of Yoo’s judgments, at the time he acted the law was not “sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he [wa]s doing violate[d]” the plaintiffs’ rights. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S. Ct. 2074, 2083 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). We therefore hold that Yoo must be granted qualified immunity, and accordingly reverse the decision of the district
court.

As we explain below, we reach this conclusion for two reasons. First, although during Yoo’s tenure at OLC the constitutional rights of convicted prisoners and persons subject to ordinary criminal process were, in many respects, clearly established, it was not “beyond debate” at that time that Padilla — who was not a convicted prisoner or criminal defendant, but a suspected terrorist designated an enemy combatant and confined to military detention by order of the President — was entitled to the same constitutional protections as an ordinary convicted prisoner or accused criminal. Id. Second, although it has been clearly established for decades that torture of an American citizen violates the Constitution, and we assume without deciding that Padilla’s alleged treatment rose to the level of torture, that such treatment was torture was not clearly established in 2001-03.