Tucker Carlson Might Want To End Qualified Immunity If He Actually Knew What It Was
Last night Fox News host Tucker Carlson vigorously defended qualified immunity, the doctrine that allows public officials to avoid federal civil rights lawsuits if the way they violated your rights has not been outlined with exacting detail in previous case law.
Carlson offered an alternative definition for his viewers. “Qualified immunity means that cops can’t be personally sued when they accidentally violate people’s rights while conducting their duties,” he said. “They can be sued personally when they do it intentionally, and they often are.”
There are a few problems with the statement, the largest being that it is not true.
Qualified immunity provides no distinction between accidental and intentional rights violations. A quick review of previous qualified immunity rulings proves as much. Consider the cops in Fresno, California, who were granted qualified immunity after allegedly stealing $225,000 while carrying out a search warrant.
It was not an accidental robbery, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit acknowledged as much in their ruling last September. Though “the City Officers ought to have recognized that the alleged theft was morally wrong,” the unanimous panel wrote, it concluded that they “did not have clear notice that it violated the Fourth Amendment.” They both received qualified immunity.
Translation: The officers should’ve known that stealing from someone is morally and legally indefensible. But without a court precedent spelling that out for them, the two were off the hook, leaving the plaintiffs no recourse. That is how qualified immunity works in practice.
“Civil immunity has precisely nothing to do with anything that happened in the George Floyd case,” Carlson continued. “Just in case you were wondering, that cop is in jail.”
Again, that represents a fundamental misunderstanding around where and when qualified immunity applies. The doctrine solely pertains to civil liability—a public official who breaks the law and is awarded qualified immunity is not protected from criminal prosecution. The two are entirely unrelated, although it’s worth noting that state prosec
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