The Lost Story of Iqbal
61 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2016 Last revised: 19 Jan 2017
Date Written: January 17, 2017
The Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, which transformed pleading standards across civil litigation, is recognized as one of the most important cases of contemporary civil procedure. Despite the abundant attention the case has received on procedural grounds, the Court’s representations of Javaid Iqbal, the plaintiff in the case, and the post-9/11 detentions out of which his claims arose have received far less critique than they deserve. The decision presented a particular narrative of the detentions that may affect readers’ perceptions of the propriety of law enforcement practices, the scope of the harm they impose on minority communities, and their ultimate legality. This Article contests that narrative by recovering the lost story of Iqbal. It first retells the story of Iqbal himself — the Pakistani immigrant and cable repair technician whom the opinion presented only categorically as a foreigner, a terrorist suspect, and, at best, a victim of abuse. Drawing on the author’s interview of Iqbal in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2016 and other available evidence, the Article reconstructs the facts of Iqbal’s immigrant life, his arrest and detention in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and the enduring consequences of being labeled a suspected terrorist. Second, the Article recounts the role of race and religion in the post-9/11 immigrant detentions, challenging the Court’s account of the detentions as supported by an “obvious” legitimate explanation. Juxtaposing the lost story of Iqbal and the detentions against the Court’s decision ultimately sheds light on the ability of procedural decisions to propagate particular normative visions and understandings of substantive law without the full recognition of legal audiences. Nearly fifteen years after the September 11 attacks and the ensuing mass detentions, Iqbal demands attention to its substance — to the profound questions of race, law, and security that have become even more urgent in the face of new calls for the exclusion of individuals on racial and religious grounds.
Keywords: Civil Procedure, Human Rights, Terrorism, National Security, Race, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights
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