Joe Biden Isn’t Ready To End Qualified Immunity
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has spent decades managing a “moderate” balancing act. The result is a wobbly policy platform that attempts to appeal to everyone but feels fully satisfactory to few.
Take the candidate’s collaboration with Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who recently ran against him for the Democratic nomination. The duo’s “Unity Task Force,” released last week, tackled a host of issues, including qualified immunity, the legal framework that lets public officials who violate your rights avoid federal civil rights suits.
A tripartisan push is underway to change this. Reps. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.) introduced a bill recently to end the doctrine entirely. Though the GOP has been slower to warm to the subject, Sen. Mike Braun (R–Ind.) crafted his own legislation that would radically alter qualified immunity, allowing officials to invoke it only when relevant case law, federal regulation, federal statutes, and state statutes specifically permit the conduct in question—essentially reversing the current approach, in which officials are held liable only if the way they violated your rights has been described with exacting detail in previous case law.
Where does Biden fall on the issue? It’s not completely clear. “We will also act to ensure that victims of federal, state, or local law enforcement abuses of power can seek justice through civil litigation by reining in the doctrine of qualified immunity to increase police accountability,” the task force’s recommendations read. We can’t be sure what exactly that means, though we know that the Sanders faction wasn’t happy about it. The panel “got into heated debates” over qualified immunity specifically, reports Politico. “Progressives pushed to end it, but Biden appointees agreed only to sign onto a commitment to rein in the rule.”
“It either exists or it doesn’t,” noted journalist Radley Balko on Twitter. “You can’t tell the courts to only enforce it in the cases where you support it.”
Biden’s hesitance here isn’t surprising in the context of his attempt at a middle-of-the-road modus operandi. But even th
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