Washington, DC – One of President Joe Biden’s prospective nominees to replace U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer is a civil rights attorney who has been a vocal advocate of defunding the police.
Breyer announced his impending retirement on Jan. 26, prompting a demand from progressive Democrats for President Biden to make good on his campaign promise to put a black woman on the nation’s highest court, FOX News reported.
The President has promised to move quickly to replace the retiring justice.
“.@POTUS you promised us a Black woman on the Supreme Court,” U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) tweeted. “Let’s see it happen.”
U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) took it a step farther and shared a list of black female attorneys whom she believed to be “qualified contenders.”
“While there are many qualified contenders to fill the vacancy of this seat on the court, the candidacy of Ketanji Brown Jackson, Leondra Kruger, J. Michelle Childs, Wilhelmina ‘Mimi’ Wright, Eunice Lee, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi and Sherrilyn Ifill should all be weighed and considered,” Jackson Lee tweeted.
appoint the first Black Woman to the Supreme Court. While there are many qualified contenders to fill the vacancy of this seat on the court, the candidacy of Ketanji Brown Jackson, Leondra Kruger, J. Michelle Childs,
— Sheila Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) January 26, 2022
Ifill, with the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, was an early and vocal advocate of defunding the police in the weeks immediately following the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020.
She appeared on CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on June 19, 2020 and talked about what she called the nation’s “over-reliance on police.”
Ifill said it was “exhausting” to sustain the level of outrage that was needed until activists could create “real and lasting change” in law enforcement.
And she said that couldn’t be done until the country did away with qualified immunity, which she said gave officers a free pass “to kill unarmed innocent black people and suffer no consequences.”
“This regime of impunity is part of really what we’re protesting about,” Ifill told Colbert. “When people say Black Lives Matter, it really speaks to that. If our lives mattered, then the taking of that life would come with some consequence for these police officers. But it too often doesn’t.”
She said qualified immunity gave police officers a free pass on accountability for their actions.
Despite her claims, qualified immunity does not provide police officers with any protection from criminal prosecution.
The civil rights attorney told Colbert that qualified immunity “has been interpreted by courts to essentially immunize police officers from having to be accountable for these killings. So the doctrine has to be adjusted… the way courts have interpreted it, it has become so distorted.”
Ifill also claimed the elimination of qualified immunity enjoyed bipartisan support.
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that shields police officers from liability for civil damages for actions taken while acting in the capacity of a law enforcement officers, as long as the officer didn’t violate a person’s established rights.
If an officer violates a person’s legally-established rights, they are not eligible to claim qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity does not offer any protection from criminal charges but was established by the U.S. Supreme Court to curb gratuitous litigation against police officers.
On a practical level, it allows law enforcement officers to make arrests and split-second decisions regarding use of force without fear of constantly having to defend themselves personally from damages, as long as their actions were legal at the time.
Ifill also explained that “defund the police” didn’t actually mean defund the police.
“It’s been interesting to see how this phrase ‘defund the police’ makes many people very anxious and very nervous,” Ifill told Colbert. “And then when I explain… that’s not what it means. This means this is our opportunity to do something that’s long overdue, which is to fundamentally re-imagine what public safety looks like in this country.”
“And what we have done is we have turned over armed law enforcement officers the right to enter our communities to solve a set of community conflicts that actually don’t require an armed officer,” she explained.
Ifill said she was talking about mentally-disturbed people in crisis, homeless people who won’t leave someone’s front stoop, and juveniles having conflicts with their parents or neighbors.
She told Colbert those were situations when “police show up and someone ends up dead.”
“Rather than turn the entire public safety regime over to armed law-enforcement officers, we need to look at that funding, reduce that funding, and use it to support these other services,” Ifill said.
“And police officers themselves will tell you they don’t want to be social workers. They get called upon to solve all kinds of problems that they’re not trained to solve,” the civil rights attorney continued. “I think we agree, and we should therefore make sure that we can support those who are trained to do those kinds of interactions that also contribute to public safety, that they have the funding that they need.”
“And so, I think the anxiety is about the phrase and actually not anxiety about the concept,” Ifill concluded. “We should be looking at budgets. And we should be looking at how we have tried to solve some of our city’s problems and our public safety problems, and we should recognize that this over-reliance on police has given us a regime that we can see is not working.”