Bill Barr Gets Away With Busting Heads in Lafayette Square Because He’s a Fed
A federal judge on Monday partially rejected a group of lawsuits against local police and fully dismissed claims against federal officials who ordered and oversaw the violent clearing of protesters from Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020.
The four groups of plaintiffs sued former President Donald Trump, former Attorney General William Barr, several former federal agency heads, as well as representatives from the Metropolitan Police Department and the Arlington County (Virginia) Police Department. The plaintiffs sought damages and injunctive relief for constitutional violations and claimed that, in violently clearing Lafayette Park with little notice allegedly so that Trump could take a photo in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, he and the other defendants committed conspiracy and violated the Posse Comitatus Act.
A recently released report from the Office of Inspector General for the Interior Department found that law enforcement acted against the protesters so that contractors could install a fence, and that Barr only asked that they expedite the process for Trump.
However, Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia did not dismiss the case because of the OIG report, but rather because her reading of the precedents cited by the plaintiffs led her to grant the federal actors official immunity.
Specifically, Friedrich relied on the Bivens doctrine, a court-constructed avenue that is supposed to provide recourse for people whose rights are violated by the government. In Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1971), the Supreme Court permitted a victim to sue federal cops who conducted a warrantless search of his apartment to look for drugs, shackled him, and strip-searched him in a courthouse. But that standard has become increasingly diluted with subsequent decisions, like the one in Ziglar v. Abbasi (2017), in which the Supreme Court ruled that judges should look for “special factors counseling hesitation” when “the case is different in a meaningful way from previous Bivens cases decided by this Court.”
In other words, if the judiciary pinpoints any highly subjective measure that differentiates a case from those already on the books, then the ruling judge can use his or her discretion in shielding a federal official from accountability. It is
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