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Polling shows that a majority of voters (53%) want to end qualified immunity, a doctrine that protects law enforcement from legal accountability for their actions, even when they’re egregious. Less than a third of likely voters (30 percent) oppose ending this policy that insulates police from the consequences of their actions and denies victims justice.
A new report from The Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress by Joanna Schwartz, professor at the UCLA School of Law, on the implications of qualified immunity policy as a shield police wield against accountability proves that reforming or eliminating this doctrine would change the way law enforcement behave and promote trust in vulnerable communities especially.
While a federal civil rights law technically allows people to bring constitutional claims against law enforcement officers, qualified immunity shields all but the “plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law” from liability—meaning that police perpetrate egregious, even lethal misconduct without consequences. Victims of police violence are left without legal recourse for these flagrant violations of their constitutional rights.
It’s not just the public that opposes qualified immunity as it is put into practice in our legal system. At least two bills pending in Congress would end qualified immunity, including the Ending Qualified Immunity Act sponsored by Representatives Ayanna Pressley, D-MA, and Justin Amash, I-MI. They are joined by academics, progressive and conservative advocacy groups, a coalition of NFL players, and federal judges who say that qualified immunity is both bad law and bad policy—and ought to be abolished. Among those judges: Justice Clarence Thomas, arguably the most conservative member of the Supreme Court, and a host of other Trump appointees.
“Qualified immunity is bad in theory and worse in practice,” said Joanna Schwartz, Professor at the UCLA School of Law. “Law enforcement has used QI as a shield to evade responsibility and liability for its transgressions. It’s past time we eliminate this barrier not only to holding police accountable but to fairly and justly litigating the issues surrounding law enforcements’ violations of Americans’ civil rights.”
The report is available here.