“This is the cornerstone of our culture of near-zero accountability for law enforcement,” Jay Schweikert, a criminal justice policy analyst at the Cato Institute, said of the doctrine created by the court in the late 1960s.
While the Civil Rights Act of 1871 gives Americans the unambiguous ability to sue public officials over civil rights violations, the Supreme Court has subsequently limited liability to only those rights that have become “clearly established law.”
“In order for a plaintiff to defeat qualified immunity, they have to find a prior case that has held unconstitutional an incident with virtually identical facts to the one the plaintiff is bringing,” said UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz. “And over the last 15 years, the court has made it a more and more difficult standard for plaintiffs to overcome to go to trial.”
The issue has been percolating in lower courts for years and drawn increasing scrutiny from across the political spectrum. It returns to the Supreme Court now by coincidence, as the country grapples with fallout from the death of George Floyd while he was in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day.
During their private weekly conference, the justices are expected to review petitions in eight different cases involving qualified immunity, which the court established in an attempt to curb gratuitous litigation. Read more…