Progressive Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) And liberal Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) Introduced legislation on Monday which intends to eliminate the contentious doctrine of qualified immunity for law enforcement and other government agents.
“We have to fully finish the doctrine of qualified immunity which for too long has shielded law enforcement from accountability and refused recourse for the countless families robbed of their loved ones,” Pressley said in a statement. “There can be no justice without recovery and accountability, and there can be no true accountability with qualified immunity. We must act with urgency. We must be bold and unapologetic in our pursuit of policy which raises authorities liability and addresses the tragedy of police brutality plaguing brown and Black communities”
The Democratic Party Party-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted down that campaign, an amendment to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, in favor of a reform that allows victims to sue law enforcement and potentially recover damages but doesn’t dispense with the philosophy completely. Pressley is currently reintroducing the laws as a standalone bill.
Qualified immunity is the product of these courts and has long been considered an example of extreme judicial activism and a significant roadblock to racial and criminal justice reform.
“In 1871, Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment and also fight outrageous violations of civil and constitutionally secured rights all over the nation, particularly those of recently freed slaves and other black Americans from the post-Civil War South,” the legislation notes. “Contained in the act has been a provision, now codified at section 1983 of title 42, United States Code, which offers a cause of action for all individuals to file suits against people acting under color of state law, such as State or local officials, who violate their national legal and constitutionally secured rights”
That provision of the KKK Act, also known as the first Civil Rights Act, is broadly familiar to lawyers as a”civil action for deprivation of rights.” Originally passed as a court-based enforcement mechanism for certain provisions of this 14th Amendment, the statute was rarely subject to judicial scrutiny until the 1950s and 1960s.
Scarcely employed for most of U.S. history, the Civil Rights movement shifted matters. Activists arrested and mistreated by racist southern cops tried to utilize the statute for remedy. Subsequently the courts stepped in.
From the 1967 landmark case of Pierson v. Ray, the U.S. Supreme Court started to severely restrict §1983’s applicability.
Fifteen black and white Episcopal clergy tried to desegregate”White Only” bus terminals at Jackson, Miss.. They have been arrested for violation of the peace and also for refusing”to move on when ordered to do so by a police officer.” The protestors ultimately conquer the fees. They later sued the cops and the trial judge under §1983, alleging that they were detained and imprisoned.
Ever since then, the doctrine has improved and been embellished by subsequent court decisions which make it exceedingly hard for plaintiffs to even attract police officers to trial for alleged constitutional violations.
Pressley takes note of this history in a media release:
[S]ince 1967 the Supreme Court has issued numerous decisions gutting this protection by devising the qualified immunity doctrine, rendering police officers from being successfully sued for misconduct, neglect, or abuse, a unique coverage that no other profession retains. The court’s broad interpretation of this doctrine has allowed police to violate constitutional rights with impunity, supplying officers immunity for everything from criminal traffic stops to brutality and murder. Qualified immunity shields police from accountability, impedes authentic justice, and undermines the inherent rights of each person in this country. It’s past time to end qualified immunity.
The philosophy often leads to headline-grabbing results.
A federal court recently discovered prison guards were entitled to qualified immunity after forcing a innocent girl to remove her tampon for review . This past year, a federal court okayed qualified immunity to get a cop who left a developmentally disabled man to perish on the side of a street . Prison guards got the hook off this past year after having a person to three weeks’ of solitary confinement–that can be regarded torture by the United Nations. Also in 2020, plainclothes cops were shielded by the doctrine after severely beating a man on his front porch.
Notably, that the Biden government is presently protecting the doctrine from the national court system in a situation where officers violated the Fourth Amendment.
The Ending Qualified Immunity Act is framed as a”reaction to heinous and unjust actions of police misconduct,” especially including Floyd’s death and of Breonna Taylor.
The bill itself will amend §1983 to explicitly say that the high court’s qualified immunity doctrine does not provide police officers immunity or defense from liability for their activities. The bill also seeks to clarify that Congress’s original intent”in passing the law was frustrated, and [that] Americans’ rights secured by the Constitution have not been suitably protected.”
“It is cases like Daniel Prude, Elijah McClain, and countless others that make evident our justice system is failing to hold accountable law enforcement officers who engage in police brutality and kill Brown and Black Americans,” Markey said in a statement. “It’s time we finish the obsolete and judge-made doctrine of qualified immunity and begin delivering responsibility for the officers who abuse their positions of trust and responsibility within our communities. There will not be accurate racial justice until we end qualified immunity.”
The bill contains dozens of cosponsors in the House and is also cosponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) From the U.S. Senate.