A group of Senate Democrats on Thursday introduced a resolution pushing for an end to “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine created by the Supreme Court with the aim of shielding government employees from frivolous lawsuits, but has been decried in recent years as allowing bad actors to escape accountability for violating peoples’ rights.
The Democrats’ resolution was in reaction to the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department, an event that has reignited fury against the doctrine on both sides of the aisle.
“Law enforcement should not be completely shielded from accountability when they violate someone’s civil rights,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said of the resolution. “It is clear that the Supreme Court’s qualified immunity doctrine is broken and in need of reform. It is time that we say clearly that police officers should be held accountable to the law and to the people they are sworn to protect, period.”
.@JusticeWillett dubitante on qualified immunity: "I write
separately to register my disquiet over the kudzu-like creep of the modern immunity regime"https://t.co/GuZoI5NXg5 pic.twitter.com/sxDbyHVorV
— Josh Blackman (@JoshMBlackman) August 31, 2018
— Clark Neily (@ConLawWarrior) June 4, 2020
The Democrats’ resolution outlines the phenomenon noted by Willett, saying it makes it easy for officials to wriggle out of accountability on technicalities.
“[B]y narrowly construing the ‘clearly established’ standard so that any factual or contextual distinctions between the challenged use of excessive force and the use of excessive force in a prior case, even small or insignificant distinctions, are cause for qualified immunity with respect to the challenged use of excessive force,” the resolution says, the doctrine “unjustly precludes the victims of police violence from vindicating” their rights.
“For too long our courts have closed their doors to people seeking redress when police violate their constitutional rights,” Booker said separately. “We’ve got to ensure that there is access to justice to truly hold police accountable for their misconduct.”