WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) will introduce the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act.
The vast majority of our law enforcement officers conduct themselves beyond reproach as they execute their duties. Unfortunately, the current interpretation of qualified immunity allows law enforcement in many of the high-profile excessive force and abuse of power cases to avoid civil suits from citizens seeking redress for violation of their legal rights.
Due to the judicial branch’s overreach of power, government employees have access to an overly broad qualified immunity defense in which protection is extended to those acting under the color of the law, even when they commit egregious acts which deprive fellow citizens of their constitutional and statutory rights.
While qualified immunity originally was intended to defend government employees acting with good faith, the doctrine has expanded to protect those acting well-outside the law if the allegedly deprived right has not yet been “clearly established” in the relevant jurisdiction.
The modern doctrine of qualified immunity has been used to protect law enforcement officers who:
- Assaulted and consequently broke the collarbone of an unarmed and nonviolent woman.
- Released a police dog on an unarmed person who had surrendered.
The Reforming Qualified Immunity Act re-instates the original qualified immunity standard. Government employees, including law enforcement officers, would be permitted to claim qualified immunity when sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only when:
- Conduct alleged to be unlawful had previously been authorized or required by federal or state statute or regulation.
- A court had found that alleged unlawful conduct was consistent with the Constitution and federal laws.
The bill would also permit a right of action against localities and municipalities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, ensuring that towns and cities are held accountable for the actions of their employees.
This legislation would permit law enforcement officers who act in accordance with the law as ordained by courts and state or federal legislatures the defense they need to perform their jobs adequately and effectively, while removing misguided protection that has been extended to those who act under the color of the law to illegally deprive citizens of the rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the Constitution and our country’s laws.
Additionally, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Sonia Sotomayor have explicitly called for the Court to revisit and re-examine the modern doctrine of qualified immunity, the Supreme Court continues to deny review and two days ago Thomas said, “There is likely no basis for the objective inquiry into clearly established law that our modern cases prescribe. Leading treatises from the second half of the 19th century and case law until the 1980s contain no support for this ‘clearly established law’ test.” If the Court will not correct their wrong, it is up to Congress to re-affirm its intent in the application of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
“Without any direction from Congress, our judicial branch has unilaterally created and defined qualified immunity. It’s time Congress does their job to establish a qualified immunity law that defends law enforcement, while protecting the rights of the people,” said U.S. Senator Mike Braun. “To claim qualified immunity under the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act, a government employee such as a police officer would have to prove that there was a statute or court case in the relevant jurisdiction showing his or her conduct was authorized: a meaningful change that will help law enforcement and the citizens they protect.”
Senator Mike Braun’s Reforming Qualified Immunity Act has so far garnered support from the following groups:
- Americans for Prosperity
- Justice Action Network
- Right on Crime
- R Street