Ayanna Pressley Revives Justin Amash’s Bill To End Qualified Immunity
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.) has reintroduced a bill to end qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that makes it difficult for the public to hold government officials accountable for alleged misconduct.
Former Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) originally unveiled the Ending Qualified Immunity Act in June 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd. Pressley signed on as cosponsor a few days after, though the bill died without ever receiving a vote.
The Ending Qualified Immunity Act of 2021, which Sens. Ed Markey (D–Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) are cosponsoring in the Senate, endeavors to do the exact same thing as its predecessor: abolish qualified immunity for all state actors.
The American public maintains the right to sue civil servants who violate their rights under Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code. But the Supreme Court has radically limited that right over the years. First, there was the decision in Pierson v. Ray (1967), which held that public officials may avoid civil suits if constitutional violations were made in “good faith.” In Harlow v. Fitzgerald (1982), the high court took that a step further: Victims may not sue state actors for misbehavior unless that misbehavior was “clearly established” in previous case law.
In other words, in order to have the right to bring a case before a jury, a plaintiff must be able to point to a court precedent that explicitly describes the situation in question to a tee. Qualified immunity has protected two cops who stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant, a cop who damaged a man’s eye after allegedly kneeing him 20 to 30 times after he had been subdued, a prison guard who hid while an inmate raped a nurse, two cops who beat and arrested a man for standing outside of his house, a cop who ruined a man’s vehicle during a bogus drug search, a cop who shot a 10-year-old, and a cop who shot a 15-year-old.
In all of those cases, the victims were left with no avenue for recompense.
“It is the sense of the Congress that we must correct the erroneous interpretation” of Section 1983, the
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