Constitutional Law

9th Circuit Nixes Padilla Suit Against Lawyer John Yoo, Author of So-Called DOJ Torture Memos

Reversing a federal district judge’s determination that an enemy combatant could sue a Justice Department lawyer over his “torture memos” authorizing the use of harsh interrogation methods by U.S. authorities on terrorism suspects, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that John Yoo is immune from Jose Padilla’s suit seeking a declaratory judgment that his constitutional rights were violated.

Although Padilla is a United States citizen, he was held without charges as a so-called enemy combatant for over three years in a military prison in South Carolina, accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty” bomb. During this time, he contends that he was tortured under the authority provided by Yoo’s memos, which the lawyer wrote while working for the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. Padilla was subsequently convicted in 2007 of conspiring to help Islamic extremist groups.

Because, prior to a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the rights of enemy combatants were not “clearly established,” during the 2001 to 2003 time period when Yoo was writing his memos for the DOJ, and because it likewise wasn’t clear at the time that “the specific interrogation techniques allegedly employed against Padilla, however appalling, necessarily amounted to torture,” Yoo cannot be sued personally, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously held (PDF) on Wednesday.

The Associated Press, Bloomberg, Reuters and the San Francisco Chronicle all have stories.

Attorney Miguel Estrada represents Yoo, who is now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, the Reuters article notes. Estrada said in a written statement that Padilla, having “now lost before two separate courts of appeals,” concerning both the case against Yoo and a similar action against other U.S. officials nixed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January, “will need to find a new hobby for his remaining time in prison.” Padilla has appealed the 4th Circuit ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Constitutional Law Prof Blog post provides further details.

Earlier coverage: “Judge Allows Lawsuit Claiming John Yoo’s Legal Memos Led to Torture” “DOJ Will Pay Yoo’s Legal Tab, But Its Lawyers Won’t Handle the Case” “Lawyers Turn to 9th Circuit with Pleas to Hold Yoo Accountable” “Lawyer Tells 9th Circuit: Detainee’s Suit Against John Yoo Could ‘Open the Floodgate’”

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