Washington, DC – Democrats in both chambers of Congress reintroduced legislation on Tuesday to end qualified immunity for police officers.
The proposed bills would abolish the law enforcement officers’ protections 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 rights, FOX News reported.
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.
Even if officers are shielded under qualified immunity, people are still able to sue the officer’s law enforcement agency for damages.
U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D- Massachusetts) and Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) were co-sponsors of the “Ending Qualified Immunity Act” on the Senate side on March 2, FOX News reported.
“There will not be true racial justice until we end qualified immunity,” Markey said in a statement when the new legislation was announced.
U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) was a co-sponsor on the House side for the legislation, FOX News reported.
“We must fully end the doctrine of qualified immunity which for too long has shielded law enforcement from accountability and denied recourse for the countless families robbed of their loved ones,” Pressley said in a statement on March 2.
“There can be no justice without healing and accountability, and there can be no true accountability with qualified immunity,” the congresswoman insisted. “We must act with urgency. We must be bold and unapologetic in our pursuit of policy that increases police accountability and addresses the crisis of police brutality plaguing Black and brown communities.”
Pressley was one of the sponsors of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 that died in the last Congress, FOX News reported.
That bill was introduced in July of 2020 in the wake of Floyd’s death in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
There was an added push for Congress to tackle the issue of qualified immunity after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear any of the eight challenges to the doctrine submitted to it for review in June of 2020.
“Across the country, police and law enforcement officers continue to escape legal accountability when they break the law, shielded from liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity,” read Pressley’s description of the legislation on her office website.
“Congress granted individuals the right to sue state and local officials who violate their rights, including police officers, in the Civil Rights Act of 1871, now found under Section 1983,” the document continued. “However, since 1967 the Supreme Court has issued several decisions gutting this protection by inventing the qualified immunity doctrine, rendering police officers from being successfully sued for misconduct, negligence, or abuse, a unique protection that no other profession holds. The court’s broad interpretation of this doctrine has allowed police to violate constitutional rights with impunity, providing officers immunity for everything from unlawful traffic stops to brutality and murder.”
“Qualified immunity shields police from accountability, impedes true justice, and undermines the constitutional rights of every person in this country. It’s past time to end qualified immunity,” Pressley wrote.
The description said the proposed bill would amend existing law to “explicitly state that the qualified immunity doctrine invented by the Supreme Court does NOT provide police officers that brutalize or otherwise violate civil rights with defense or immunity from liability for their actions.”
The elimination of qualified immunity would result in many more lawsuits against police officers could proceed to a trial or settlement, according to FOX News.
It would also mean that police departments would have a very difficult time recruiting officers because they are exposed to so much more individual liability.
Law enforcement agencies would also have even more trouble getting insurance coverage at the taxpayers’ expense for the increasingly-growing load of lawsuit settlements, FOX News reported.