States Can Provide Their Own Civil Remedies for Police Abuse
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is scheduled to be tried next month on murder and manslaughter charges in connection with the May 25 arrest of George Floyd, who died while Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Yet whether or not Chauvin is convicted, it is not at all clear that he can be held accountable for his actions that day under a federal statute that authorizes lawsuits against government officials who violate people’s constitutional rights.
Despite the details of Floyd’s death, which shocked Americans of all political persuasions and provoked a series of protests across the country, the federal civil rights lawsuit that his family filed last July must overcome “qualified immunity.” That widely criticized doctrine, which the Supreme Court invented in 1982, bars such claims unless the misconduct they allege violated “clearly established” rights, which has proven to be a formidable obstacle for victims of outrageous police abuse.
Given the way that federal judges have applied qualified immunity, Floyd’s relatives may not get their day in court unless the precedents they cite involve conduct very similar to Chauvin’s. As UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz, a leading critic of the doctrine, puts it, they “would have to find cases in which earlier defendants were found to have violated the law in precisely the same way.”
After turning away a bunch of opportunities to restrict or reconsider qualified immunity last year, the Supreme Court recently suggested that the defense has been read too broadly. This week it vacated a decision in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit granted qualified immunity to a correctional officer who allegedly blasted a prisoner in the face with pepper spray “for no reason at all.”
While the 5th Circuit agreed that such unprovoked use of pepper spray would violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on c
Article from Latest – Reason.com