Put Qualified Immunity Reform at the top of the ‘to do’ List
The long-term political repercussions of the jury’s guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial are still unclear. But for the moment, there is some renewed effort to get a broad policing reform bill introduced in the Senate.
The point of disagreement: qualified immunity reform…
Qualified immunity protects police officers and other types of government officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances, allowing lawsuits only when an individual’s “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights have been violated.
Unions for police officers and sheriffs have both opposed the changes to qualified immunity made in the House bill.
[South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim] Scott said his proposal would make it easier for victims of police violence to sue police departments, rather than police officers.
Civilians currently face numerous legal barriers in trying to hold police departments or municipalities accountable for civil rights violations.
The Supreme Court has been very reluctant to revisit qualified immunity, and Congress has turned it into a political football, with interest group politics taking precedence over protecting constitutional rights.
Some states have made progress on qualified immunity. But their reforms are only effective in their own state courts – not federal courts.
And it’s in federal courts where qualified immunity continues to make a mockery of the Bill of Rights, and common sense. As the Carto Institute’s Jay Schweikert writes, a recent federal appeals court ruling extended qualified immunity to police officers who knowingly violated an individual’s First Amendment rights to videotape police activity.
Curbing the runaway qualified immunity defense is critical to real policing reform. Without it, bad cops will dodge responsibility, tarnishing their colleagues, the justice system, and the rule of law.