Supreme Court Rejects Muslim Inmate’s Plea

The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked a Muslim inmate from suing the federal government over the loss of religious items that were under the care of federal prison officials.

In late January, the high court ruled 5-4 that the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which allows inmates to sue the federal government for mishandling of property, exempts prison officials.

Abdus-Shahid M.S. Ali was transferred from a federal penitentiary in Atlanta to a corrections facility in Kentucky in 2003. When his property was transferred to him, he was missing two Qurans and a prayer rug. He subsequently sued under the FTCA arguing that the federal government should reimburse him for the lost religious items. In his lawsuit, Ali argued that prison officials had repeatedly tried to disrupt his Islamic worship practices.

The high court majority led by Justice Clarence Thomas found in Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons that FTCA exemptions extended to prison officials.

Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a dissent, which was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Stephen Breyer. The dissenting justices concluded that they were not convinced that Congress meant to give “sweeping impunity to all federal law enforcement officials from liability for the detention of property….”