Washington, DC – U.S. senators who have been trying to work a compromise for police reform legislation in Congress have taken the abolishment of “qualified immunity” off the table.
Sources told Politico that police reform negotiators have stopped talking about the controversial 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.
Even if officers are shielded under qualified immunity, people are still able to sue the officer’s law enforcement agency for damages.
Republicans lawmakers have stood firmly against getting rid of qualified immunity.
Progressive Democrats, on the other hand, have said they will settle for nothing less than total elimination of the doctrine, Politico reported.
The House bill named after George Floyd passed in March and eliminated qualified immunity along with a host of other police reforms.
However, it has no chance of getting the 10 GOP votes needed to override a filibuster, so is considered pretty much dead in the water at this point, Politico reported.
U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) suggested Democrats might consider police reform legislation that didn’t totally eliminate qualified immunity, arguing that some progress is better than none.
But Progressive Democrats, who make up a substantial chunk of the Democrat party’s voting bloc in the house, do not want to compromise, Politico reported.
U.S Representative Cori Bush (D-Missouri), a former Black Lives Matter activist, has said that removing qualified immunity was a redline.
“We compromise, we die,” Bush said.
Without the support of Progressive Democrats, the slim majority can only afford to lose three votes from their own number, Politico reported.
On the other side of the Capitol building, U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) have been leading negotiations.
They’re working with U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D-California) on the House side to try to come up with a compromise, Politico reported.
The group has missed several self-imposed deadlines but said it was more important to keep working toward achieving the goal.
Floyd’s family visited lawmakers in early August to try to push them to make a deal, but the Senate left for recess with no such agreement.
Scott hinted before he left the nation’s capital for summer recess that the group had been working on a “slimmed down version” of their bill, Politico reported.
But neither he nor Booker would talk about what was getting left on the table.
There is no compromise that will make everyone happy.
Democrats floated the idea of shifting liability to police departments instead of individual officers and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was outraged and objected, according to Politico.
The proposal mirrored the one made by Scott and anti-police groups called it a codification of doctrine rather than an abolition of qualified immunity.
Scott and Booker have promised to keep working until they reach a deal, Politico reported.
Booker has said deadlines are irrelevant in the grand scheme of what they’re trying to accomplish.
Caroline Anderegg, spokeswoman for Scott, said in a statement to Politico that “the senator will stay at the negotiating table as long as progress is being made” and that negotiators “will continue to work through August toward finding an agreement.”
The failure to pass police reform legislation in the first six months of President Joe Biden’s presidency has been an embarrassment for Democrats who were elected on a promise to do so.