These 7th Circuit Decisions Suggest Amy Coney Barrett Takes a Constrained View of Qualified Immunity
During its last session, the Supreme Court passed up a bunch of opportunities to revisit qualified immunity, a doctrine that shields government officials from federal civil rights claims when their alleged misconduct did not violate “clearly established” law. But critics of that doctrine, which in many cases has protected police officers from liability for outrageous abuses, still hope the justices will take up the issue at some point. While it’s not clear whether Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is inclined to do that, her positions on qualified immunity as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit suggest she takes a constrained view of the doctrine’s scope.
I have previously noted Barrett’s majority opinion in the 2019 case Rainsberger v. Benner, which demolished an Indianapolis detective’s claim that he could not be sued for lying in a probable cause affidavit that was used to charge William Rainsberger with murdering his mother. “The unlawfulness of using deliberately falsified allegations to establish probable cause could not be clearer,” she noted.
In the 2019 case Torry v. Chicago, by contrast, Barrett wrote an opinion that upheld qualified immunity for Chicago police officers who stopped “three black men in a grey sedan” while investigating a drive-by shooting half a mile from a high school in 2014. Those men—Marcus Torry, William Roberts, and Latrell Goss—had nothing to do with the shooting. They just happened to be in the neighborhood four hours later because Goss’ car had broken down. The other two men picked him up and drove him to an auto parts store, passing the high school twice.
A weird wrinkle in this case is that the officers did not remember the stop. To justify it, they relied on reports about the shooting and a video of the encounter that Torry recorded with his cellphone. Witnesses to the shooting “had described three black men in a grey car,” although “the descriptions of the car’s model varied, and none was an exact match for the car that the plaintiffs were driving.” The video “depicted Sergeant Robert King, the officer who initiated the stop, citing the plaintiffs’ suspicious behavior in the area of the shooting as the reason that he had pulled them over.”
The video shows that King explicitly described the incident as “a Terry stop,” referring to the 1968 Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio, which said the Fourth Amendment allows police to detain and question people based on “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. The Court also said police in those circumstances are allowed to pat people down for weapons, as the officers did in this case, if they reasonably suspect they are armed.
Barrett concluded that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established that their actions ran afoul of Terry. And although she did not officially address the question, she strongly sugge
Article from Latest – Reason.com