George Floyd

House Passes Policing Reform Package, Including Provision That Would End Qualified Immunity

Republicans have said ending qualified immunity is off the table, and for the moment policing reform looks dead in Congress.


The Democrat-led House of Representatives passed a package of criminal justice legislation Thursday night, largely along party lines, to address nationwide protests and demands for policing reforms following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last month.

By a 236-181 vote, with only three Republicans voting in favor of it, the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The legislation would end qualified immunity—a legal doctrine that shields cops from liability in civil rights lawsuits—establish a national registry for police misconduct, ban police chokeholds and no-knock raids in some circumstances, and limit the transfer of military equipment to state and local police departments. It would also require federal law enforcement officers to wear body cameras and to have dashboard cameras installed in their vehicles.

Ending qualified immunity has long been on criminal justice reform advocates and libertarians' wish lists.

"Qualified immunity is a failure as a matter of policy, as a matter of law, and as a matter of basic morality," said Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm. "For too long, qualified immunity has denied victims a remedy for violations of their constitutional rights. It's encouraging to see Congress is finally taking steps to fix this pernicious mistake by the Supreme Court."

Although civil liberties groups say the bill is far from perfect—they criticized provisions that would increase federal funding for state and local law enforcement—Kanya Bennett, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said in a press release that tonight's vote is still "the most significant action that Congress has taken on police reform in the six years that have transpired between the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and George Floyd in Minneapolis."

"Given this significant and historic moment we are in, though, Congress can and must do more," she continued. "We can't band-aid police with more federal dollars or take away just some of the military weapons. Congress must divest entirely from an institution that has brutalized Black people for centuries."

However, the fate of any comprehensive policing reform, at least at the federal level, seems doomed, at least for the moment. The White House and congressional Republicans have made it clear that ending qualified immunity is off the table.

Meanwhile in the Senate, Democrats have blocked Republican's more modest policing reform bill, the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act, introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.). 

The JUSTICE Act would, among other things, increase the penalties for filing a false police report and incentivize departments to create systems to share disciplinary records with each other to stop problem officers from being rehired. Another section, the Breonna Taylor Notification Act—named after a Louisville woman who was killed in a botched no-knock raid in March—would require states to collect and report data on the use of no-knock raids.

Democrats and civil liberties groups like the ACLU say Scott's legislation doesn't go nearly far enough in addressing systemic problems in American policing. Republicans, however, say their bill balances the need to address problematic policing while still supporting police overall.

"The American people know you do not really want progress on an issue if you block the Senate from taking it up," Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) said in a floor speech Thursday night. "They know that most police officers are brave and honorable and that most protesters are peaceful. And they know our country needs both."

For the moment, both parties are at an impasse. In a press release after tonight's vote, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Democrats' legislation is "just another thinly veiled Democrat attempt to look like they are getting something done when we all know this bill will never become law."

NEXT: Firing Nakedly Racist Cops Is Just the First Step in Addressing Racially Biased Policing

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50 responses to “House Passes Policing Reform Package, Including Provision That Would End Qualified Immunity

  1. I am a hard-core Republican, and myself and most people I know all agree the QI has to go. It is license to abuse.

    Oh, and asset forfeiture needs to go, and the militarization of police forces as well.

    1. “militarization of police forces”
      Qualified immunity is just a symptom, militarization is the cancer.

      “asset forfeiture needs to go”
      Literally theft, council-members and state reps who voted for it should be arrested.

      1. Qualified Immunity has to go for everybody, not just cops.
        Prosecutors, judges, and lawmakers have to be held accountable too.

        Asset forfeiture needs to go.

        Public sector collective bargaining needs to go.

        No knock raids probably need to go.

        Criminal actions need to be prosecuted.

        Plea bargain reform is needed.

        1. I actually agree with those who say that there should be some qualified immunity. As the statute is written it doesn’t seem unreasonable. Not like the abomination created by the courts.

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          2. Agreed. The concept and the current statute are definitely reasonable and even beneficial. This over-interpretation that requires such a high threshold to overcome is the problem. I fear we are looking to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one.

        2. All of what Nardz is saying. QI has become the fashionable thing to go after, I’m guessing because it will be the easiest target, but without everything else on this list and the ability to put a cap on the amount of accountability that police and other public sector unions are able to skirt around, all of this is for nothing.

      2. Not disagreeing asset forfeiture is literally theft as currently implemented, but it was never voted for. It comes out of common law regarding abandoned maritime property engaged in illegal activity. Ie, if smuggler’s abandon a ship with contraband, the state took the property to court to confiscate it, because they didn’t know who owned it. The owners weren’t going to come forward to be charged with smuggling, after all. That application still makes sense, even. (If you find an abandoned drug tunnel under the southern border with hundreds of millions in drugs and cash, how do you deal with those obviously illicit items?).

        Now, applying asset forfeiture to property where the owner is *known* is an abomination.

    2. I agree with you AustinRoth, but I’m a hard core libertarian. I’m disappointed the GOP and Trump are blocking removal of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity, is nothing more than putting some people (who happen to work for the government) above the law (i.e., they are immune from the law) while Democrats are repeating that “No one is above the law” though they all mean that about Trump, not themselves or liberal government employees like Lois Lerner.

      1. Although I agree that QI is a bad policy, take this out to its logical conclusion. As more police (or government employees) are sued for every wrong, real or imagined the government (meaning tax payers) will be forced by union contracts to pay for both the defense and any payouts so really that would be voting to increase local and state taxes on ourselves. Unless the law can override union contracts and force the defendants to pay their own way this would be a non-starter for me. Any solution would have to involve the States and local government as well, however that leads to the next problem. As most government employees do not have oodles of cash laying around the tort lawyers who are huge democrat supporters would be against this as that would cut into their take so don’t see cities ending us paying for the lawsuits, they would just purchase insurance with our tax dollars to cover the losses…again we would be paying for it. So you see, from a fiscal perspective QI is unfortunately the lesser of two evils.
        The more palatable solution for me would be for the civil rights division to go after these bad cops criminally. Increase the number of federal crimes for police and really enforce the laws. This is something they could do without having to involve the state and local governments. That more than anything would have an effect on bad cops. Knowing they would have to spend a few years in federal prison. From what I have read these last three years the FBI has no problem looking for any conceivable infraction and then crushing the defendant into taking a plea.

        1. Criminally prosecuting them doesn’t make the victims whole.

          And union contracts would be forced to change by cities who could no longer afford to put up with bad behavior. (Frankly, public sector unions should just be banned outright, but that’ll never happen).

          1. Suing individual cops isn’t going to make people whole. The vast majority of cops that would be getting sued don’t have nearly enough of anything to make it worth the ambulance chaser’s time.

            I also don’t care for this mentality that everyone has that anytime someone is the victim of a criminal action, we get to look around for the person with the biggest wallet and sue them into the ground to make the victim “whole”. Bad shit happens to people, often at the hands of bad people. That doesn’t mean you get to get rich off of it. I for one am getting really sick of living in a world run by plaintiff’s lawyers where everyone’s first and foremost motivation is avoiding a lawsuit.

          2. Making victims whole, based on what recent victims have asked for, means wrongfully taking from tens of millions of Americans. That’s the #1 problem with government being the solution to anything. You’re not making anyone whole. You’re just perpetuating the cycle of revenge and victimhood.

    3. QI certainly needs to be tweaked, but eliminated entirely? Why was it put in place to begin with? At the very minimum, the police require a higher standard of evidence before conviction of any “crimes” while on duty.

  2. And police unions that exist solely to make sure bad cops cannot get fired.

  3. Is that a photo from the first time, or did those clowns seriously don the Ghanaian kente cloth and Covid masks again?

  4. “We can’t band-aid police with more federal dollars or take away just some of the military weapons. Congress must divest entirely from an institution that has brutalized Black people for centuries.”

    And yet it was the politicians who created, regulated and oversaw the institution that has brutalized Black people for centuries.
    Why isn’t Kanya Bennett, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union blaming the real villains?

    1. Minneapolis has been run by Democrats for 40 years but their police department is full of murderous racists.

      1. Minneapolis has been run by Democrats for 40 years but that’s why their police department is full of murderous racists.


          1. Reread BigT’s comment.

  5. Neither side wants their bill to pass. It’s a wedge issue for them, meant to pander to their bases.

    1. I’m pretty far removed from the democratic “base” and have to wonder exactly republican representatives have to offer in exchange for watered down police reform?

      Deficit reduction? Increased tariffs? Border security? Lower taxes for a few years?

      Trump may win the presidency, but if Scott’s bill is all that on display, republicans may very well lose the senate.

      1. Did you even actually read Scott’s bill? Do you know why his bill is like that? To withstand lawsuits based on federalism. Do you know he offered Democrats 20 amendments or more if they voted for debate? Pelosi offered zero. Which one would end up more bipartisan?

        The thing people keep missing here is police is 99% a state issue, not a federal one.

    2. God help us if they ever start behaving this way for other issues. Our government could start looking like it’s really disconnected from the desires and needs of the people they claim to serve. I would hate for public trust in our institutions to take any dings.

  6. So they didn’t do the one thing that could really make a difference which is end drug prohibition.

    1. Other things will make a difference, but ending the drug war would have the greatest impact.

    2. All that anyone is going to get out of this is a bunch of silly symbolic victories like being allowed to tear down statues and intro videos to old racist moves to provide “context”. The industry behind the policing and prison complex is so deeply entrenched (and needed by the ruling class) that the people who’ve figured out how to turn it profitable will never allow for any meaningful victories. Asking to end drug prohibition is like demanding we end the wars in the Middle East. Too much money and too many jobs rely on it now and we will never have an honest conversation in the main stream about what the real motivations behind these policies are. The average protester has no idea what they’re actually asking for.

  7. At a time of heightened tensions, my thought is incrementalism is the way to proceed. Maybe the objectionable portions of the House’s bill can be stripped out, and a limited bill with some reforms passed. Grandiose legislative schemes very rarely work.

    QI needs some kind of limitation. What that is…I am not sure.
    Asset forfeiture needs reform for sure. A uniform set of rules?
    We absolutely need better, transparent reporting of police misconduct.

    1. QI – just abolish it, it’s unneeded. If you violate someone’s constitutional rights, you should have known better. (Worst case, the Scott bill’s limit to ‘precedent or law expressly authorizing the behavior’ standard is the most QI that should be tolerated, but it should also come with a command that ‘courts must reach the merits of the constitutional arguments’).

      Asset Forfeiture – make it illegal if the owner is known or reasonably inferred. If there is a knowable owner, you must proceed against the owner, not the property.

      Certainly agree on the last point.

  8. While there are some really good parts in this bill, there are enough pork and poison pills that it seems evident to me that it was never intended as a passable bill. It was drafted so the House Ds could appear to be “doing something” without being held accountable to it.

    If they were serious about reform, they’d follow Amash’s approach and break this bill into discrete parts to debate and pass them separately.

    1. 0 amendments offered to the other party, no debate. It was never meant to pass.

      1. Why negotiate with obsolete malcontents about mediocrity when you can look forward to enacting good legislation in a number of months?

        1. Nothing would prevent them from enacting “good” legislation in a number of months anyway. Democrats just didn’t want this bill to pass. They wanted the political issue.

    2. If Congress was at all serious about responsible governance they would break up every bill into discrete parts, free of pork and unrelated nonsense, to debate and pass separately. Instead, they’re committed to performing for the cameras and the clown show cocktail parties.

  9. The real question we should be asking ourselves is why/how congress has any power over laws that effect local police departments across various states and localities.

    1. I don’t think the federal government can actually force departments to do anything, but they can attach conditions to the money and equipment that they give away.

    2. In addition to sarcasmic’s point, they can also regulate federal law enforcement behavior, including the rules that apply to joint task forces.

      And for QI in particular, it arises as a (judicially-created) defense against a federal law holding officials accountable for violating constitutional rights. So, to the degree that local officials interact with federal law (including rights that are incorporated against the states), the federal government can legislate.

      1. Would you mind telling me what rights are incorporated against the states and why?

    3. Congress has some control over the jurisdiction of the federal courts, that is, what causes of action those courts may hear: who can sue whom in federal court.

  10. Like most people here with the constant coverage of QI, I see its faults and shortcomings, but complete elimination of it seems equally absurd.

    1. End QI and anything remotely similar to it and you have fewer cops willing to take the risk of stepping over a line they have to walk up to much more frequently than most people do. Fewer cops will eventually translate into more crime as criminals learn they can get away with more without consequence or fewer cops would mean more bad cops as standards are reduced to entice more applicants.

  11. Republicans need to get their head out of their ass. Qualified immunity must be on the table. It has to be addressed.

    1. The Republican bill actually does address it. It changes the wording around from not established means “Ok, you get QI” to not established is “Ok, you can be sued.” So in other words, It has been clearly established that you are not violating someone’s civil rights by shooting them if they are waving a gun at you in a threatening manner. So according to the R version this would as in the past be allowed under QI. It had not been clearly established that shooting a kid while aiming at his dog isn’t a violation of that kid’s rights. Under the old QI system the cop would have QI, but the Senate R bill says since we haven’t established that it is OK for cops to shoot unarmed kids QI doesn’t count and the cop can be sued based on the merits of the case. It is reverting QI back to what it was intended for before the court added the “clearly established” phrase.

  12. Now we will see if the democrats will allow amendment so that this bill can become by-partisan or if they will reject any changes to the bill. The answer to this will reveal the purpose for the democrat bill.

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