Qualified Immunity

A Qualified Immunity Compromise Is Crumbling. You Can Thank the Law Enforcement Lobby.

Police unions so often protect their own—at the expense of the public.


Police accountability—once seldom-discussed among national politicians—has become a topic of constant conversation in Washington, D.C., as lawmakers attempt to bang out a compromise on criminal justice reform. Central to that debate is qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that makes it onerously difficult to hold government officials accountable in civil court when they violate your constitutional rights.

The doctrine was once obscure. Yet qualified immunity reform is now the flashpoint of those negotiations. After months of parleying on Capitol Hill, a compromise that once looked promising is now in jeopardy. Some Republicans are reportedly proposing an alternate option: Instead of reforming qualified immunity, they want it to be codified in the law.

Any movement on qualified immunity was seen as a nonstarter when Donald Trump was president, but a group of Republicans led by Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.) showed an increased willingness to work out a reform during this congressional session. While the GOP would not acquiesce to letting victims sue individual police officers, Scott announced that he would be open to having departments foot the bill for misconduct.

That compromise now appears to be crumbling. Though the Fraternal Order of Police had told Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.) it was open to the proposal, two other cop lobbies, the National Sheriffs' Association and the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), have now weighed in on the other side.

In a meeting led by Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), the sheriffs rejected the idea that their departments would have to take the heat for rogue officers' actions. Meanwhile, NAPO sent its members a message headlined "Urgent, Action Needed! Senator Booker Proposes Horrible Police Reform Bill."

Some Republicans now want to move in the opposite direction: They want qualified immunity—a creation of the U.S. Supreme Court—to be codified into federal statute. Alternatively, Graham has proposed letting departments be sued but only for cases involving death and serious bodily injury, which he calls a "sweet spot."

Qualified immunity protects misbehaving state actors from federal civil suits unless the precise way they misbehaved has been ruled unconstitutional in a prior court ruling. In practice, it has shielded a cop who killed a man who had been sleeping in his car; two cops who tased a suicidal, gasoline-covered man, causing him to burst into flames; and a cop who shot a 10-year-old boy while aiming at a nonthreatening dog. Often, the courts don't shy away from condemning such conduct—and sometimes openly admit that the victim's rights were violated. Yet the above officers did not have to face accountability for their actions, as there were no previous court rulings on the exact matters at hand.

But the doctrine also protects actions that extend beyond death and serious physical harm. Consider the more than two dozen cops who received qualified immunity after throwing explosives into an innocent 78-year-old man's home during a SWAT raid on the wrong house, or the two cops who got qualified immunity after stealing $225,000 during a search warrant, or the cop who ruined a man's car after conducting a bogus, two-hour-long drug search for which he lied to obtain consent. Under Graham's proposal, those victims would still be barred from suing.

That's what some police unions and Republicans are trying to maintain, and perhaps to entrench even further.

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  1. Unless they are going to end QI for all government employees and not just cops then it is a non-starter for me. You are much more likely to have your civil rights violated by a Bureaucrat functionary than a cop, they just get more press.

    1. While you’re right, the most serious violations happen at the point of a gun wielded by a cop. It’s the best place to start.

      We’re likely never going to get what you want via legislation since the state will not handcuff itself like that. If we’re waiting for perfect we’re never going to get anything at all.

      1. Plus you can then point out that since the cops (a group most Americans like overall) don’t have it why should any get it and the bureaucrats lose a powerful ally in the cops and their unions. Divide and conquer.

      2. EPA has destroyed families over fines. Much more harmful than an arrest that can be fixed through trial. There is no recourse for the victims of executive branch trial judges.

        1. Is it more harmful than being shot and killed?

          1. I’m sorry. I didn’t know shootings were the only things QI covered. We should always change policy solely on the most extreme interpretation or risk….

            1. A family being “destroyed” isn’t the most extreme interpretation of risk from EPA fines?

        2. EPA, FBI, etc. do as they wish without ANY rules as to what they are legally able to do or not do (as if they’d follow them). Our founders were AGAINST federalism and we should be too, as state, counties, and cities do a HUGELY better job for Americans than they feds ever can do or will do. Just look at our new president (Joey the Moron) who we have because the “Electoral College thinks they know better than the American citizens do. Get rid of the E.C. and HUGELY reduce the feds powers over states, cities, etc., as our founders never wished to have a federal government, quite the opposite, and I would say that our founders had 1000 times more intelligence than any current politicians.

      3. the most serious violations happen at the point of a gun wielded by a cop

        Those are the most visible instances, but not the most serious. The more serious violations happen at the bureaucratic level, where those gun-wielding cops are instructed, trained, dispatched, and authorized to commit their own violations.

        The Breonna Taylor case is a perfect example. The guy who shot her was at least tried for something despite being the one in the chain least responsible for the shooting. Literally nothing happened to the people that developed the no-knock policy, the people that authorized and planned the no-knock raid, the people that brought the no-knock warrant to the judge, or the judge that signed off on the no-knock warrant.

        1. My dad went to put an addition on his house. Well, before he moved in, someone built a greenhouse without permission. So to get permission to add a floor on top of the garage, he had to tear down a perfectly good greenhouse because the previous owner didn’t ask first. What kind of dick feels good after making someone destroy what will cost ten grand to replace, because of something out of their control?

          And people wonder why I’m cynical.

          1. I don’t think you are cynical enough.

      4. While I understand your point, I’d say a armed drone piloted by an agent or a mass surveillance device wielded by an agency against the American people is equally as terrible.

        Regardless, I’m fairly certain we can all agree everything needs to be dialed back in this country and the government held accountable.

    2. Kavanaugh just let the CDC continue their ban on evictions despite stating it was a taking. So ending QI won’t actually do much outside of lining trial lawyer pockets. It is a false flag to distract.

      Ending government unions is far more beneficial.

  2. “…only for cases involving death and serious bodily injury, which he calls a “sweet spot.”

    Well, not his death or serious bodily injury. .

  3. Focusing on ending police unions would go much further than would ending qualified immunity. The latter is a trial lawyers wet dream. It would allow trial lawyers to sue cops for doing as they are trained in many cases.

    Firing bad officers would actually stop bad acts more without exploiting civil systems with undefined points of liability.

    1. If they’re trained to violate constitutional rights, both the cop and the department that trained him should be held accountable.

      Abolishing government unions would also be a great thing, but abolishing QI is also necessary.

      People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Government should be afraid of their people.

      1. The problem is the rules to civil violations do change over time, and sometimes only after a USSC or district precedent is set. This isn’t black white.

        For example…

        The license clerk who hands out marriage certificates was handing them out based on her training and her understanding of the law. In a single 5-4 decision that was now a violation of rights for gay people. Under your theory she and the court house could be sued for civil penalties under law.

        That is what you are arguing for.

        Currently a Brady stop by cops is considered valid by precedent. Cops are trained based on current understanding. If the court rules as Sotomayor wants to, this would be a violation of rights and all officers working under prior precedent could then be sued.

        Do you see the issue yet?

      2. As a former staff sergeant in the military, I’m finding the accuse the senior police leadership are using is unacceptable.

        Soldiers do not have qualified immunity and as officers we are very much held accountable for the conduct of the soldiers under our command. This is why we had continual, non stop training in these areas, particularly in the laws of war and the Geneva convention itself. Exceptions of course happen, but you would be surprised how rare these violations were, far more rare than the crap thats happening today with the police. A single violation in a unit under your command is enough to have you relieved of your command.

        My assessment is that the police arent creating the correct climate of compliance and thats a far more serious (and almost unfixable) issue.

  4. So your constant hammering to get Biteme into office yielded nothing for you. Shocked!

    1. I look forward to when they’re critical of the sitting president during the next election, and your head explodes because they’re saying mean things about Biden while a Republican competes.


      1. I was going to add something about people who might be splattered by the mess, but nobody cares about your alone ass. Shit. Nobody will know you’re missed until they shut the power off and things start to smell.

        1. Lol. Bet you cry about mean girls later.

        2. I apologize.
          That was something Sevo would say.
          I’ve got more class than that.

          1. As one desperate loser literally leaves a turd on every comment in search of attention.

            1. Here is the irony. I’ve never made a comment like that. You do all the time because you’re a drunk piece of shit.

              Oh wait, I forgot. Youre the victim here.

          2. I’ve got more class than that.

            No, you don’t. You’re just another asshole.

              1. I value honesty more, especially with people who deserve nothing.

                I love it when people only here to be assholes whine that others don’t have enough class. Standards are only to be applied to others.

          3. No you apologize because you got called the fuck out hypocrite.

      2. Wow. This is fucking ironic given that you’ve said maybe 2 criticisms against Biden im the last 7 months. Just look at the roundup thread today or the tax/spending threads from yesterday.

        You may actually be more self unaware than even Jeff.

    2. The constitution is crumbling, and the TReason woketarians are to blame

    1. Who is this Psaki? reason only covers US news, not Central Asians

  5. No government has ever existed without qualified immunity. Holding government people responsible for their actions will result in anarchy. Democrats who are pushing this, those totalitarians who want to control everything, are pushing for anarchy and no government at all when they want to get rid of qualified immunity. It’s insane! No government and total government! Eeeeeviiiilll!!!!horns~~`!@@!!

    1. Can you go a single thread without a strawman?

      1. He thinks he is spinning it into gold – – – – — – – –

  6. Instead of ending qualified immunity, why not codify it into law? If we could do so in such a way that it is narrowly tailored, instead of the blanket near-total immunity invented by the courts, that could be an effective way to prevent the abusive use of the policy we see today.

    For instance, they could state that it only applies if something unfortunate happens while the public employee is faithfully executing the duties of their job (or attempting to). If the public employee is engaged in misconduct, it does not apply.

    Example 1: Police officer fires his gun at an armed robber. He misses and the bullet strikes the parked car of an innocent citizen. No one is injured, but there is damage to the vehicle. He should be covered by qualified immunity.

    Example 2: Police officer decides to harass his ex-girlfriend after a bad breakup. As part of his harassment campaign, he intentionally shoots the tires of her new boyfriend’s vehicle when he finds it parked in her driveway. This is not only against several of his department’s rules, but also illegal. He should not be covered by qualified immunity.

    1. Example 3: Cop tires of someone nonviolently refusing to obey, and unleashes a can of whoopass on their sorry behind.

      Example 4: Cop offers woman a choice between a traffic ticket or sucking his cock.

      1. Oh. So you can’t have an honest conversation.

      2. What about example 5 where a cop shoots you in the face for trespassing?

        1. Depends. Are you minding your own business or part of a violent mob?

        2. If someone rushed the stage at one of your God Emporer’s rallies you’d offer to personally fellate every USSS agent who shot them on demand for life.

    2. I always thought we needed more laws. Every bit of every minutia in everyone’s life should be codified into law. That way there will never be any question of whether someone acted lawfully or not. And we’ve got the politicians to do it. Let’s go people!

    3. Well the scenarios you describe would be covered by a regular jury trial. The point is to have the jury makes these calls, not the judge.

  7. Unmentioned in most discussions of QI is that without it, cops would be constantly subjected to groundless lawsuits.

    What’s needed is regulation of QI. An initial vetting process to determine whether a suit is obviously spurious (with a loss of filing fees) would solve much of the problem.

  8. Just because some tax leech claims a cop has immunity does not mean that community members have to go along with the claim.

  9. “Police unions so often protect their own—at the expense of the public.”

    No shit, Billy, that’s what unions do. That is, in fact, the point of unions.

  10. I am not convinced that QI is that bad with cops. The problem is that they, along with firemen, we want running to the sound of unrest and disasters. We are seeing right now in cities like Minneapolis and Portland, where Defund the Police have gained ascension, what happens when the government doesn’t have their back – they cease running to the gunfire, and become mere bureaucratic time servers.

    But other government bureaucrats don’t have that excuse. The IRS, FBI, and DOJ, over the last 5-6 years have shown the damage that government bureaucrats can do, if not held responsible, and none of them have been, either internally, or for violation of civil rights.

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