Court-invented doctrine has shielded law enforcement officers from accountability for misconduct, denied victims of police brutality of recourse
Bill comes exactly 152 years after passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act
Washington (April 19, 2023) – Today, exactly 152 years since the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) re-introduced their Ending Qualified Immunity Act, legislation that would eliminate the unjust and court-invented doctrine of qualified immunity and restore the ability for people to obtain relief when state and local officials, including police officers, violate their legal and constitutionally secured rights. The lawmakers’ bill would permit civil lawsuits against public officials, in their personal capacity, to hold them accountable for their wrongdoing.
Senator Markey and Congresswoman Pressley unveiled the bill at a Capitol Hill press conference earlier today. Full video of the press conference is available HERE.
“There will never be true justice for the victims and family members of police brutality, but qualified immunity deprives Americans of one of their most powerful tools to seek justice in a court of law,” said Senator Markey. “Qualified immunity is a dangerous doctrine that protects law enforcement officers from lawsuits and personally liability for their abuses. For decades, law enforcement has relied on qualified immunity to shield officers from accountability for police brutality and excessive force, far too often suffered by Black and Brown Americans. This must end. Victims and their families are due their day in court against those officials who violate their civil rights.”
“Police brutality is a crisis plaguing Black and brown communities, and a crisis that will continue to go unchecked until we end the dangerous, unjust, and court-invented doctrine of qualified immunity,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “For too long, qualified immunity has prevented accountability and shielded those charged with enforcing the law from any consequences for breaking it. Our bill would restore necessary civil rights protections and is essential to providing the families of those abused by law enforcement with the healing they deserve. Structural change is necessary to address this crisis and save lives, and that must include ending qualified immunity.”
Qualified immunity is a court-invented doctrine that protects government officials against lawsuits that seek to make them personally liable for their actions. Congress never intended to shield those officials from civil actions arising from their misconduct; the Civil Rights Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, expressly allowed for individuals to sue public officials, including police officers, who deprive them of their civil rights. In the century and a half since, the Supreme Court has gutted this landmark civil rights law by creating and then expanding the defense of qualified immunity, allowing law enforcement officials to escape responsibility for their bad actions, including the use of excessive force, which they have inflicted disproportionately on unarmed Black and Brown men in the United States.
Cosponsors in the House include Representatives Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Cori Bush (MO-01), André Carson (IN-07), Greg Casar (TX-35), Emanuel Cleaver III (MO-05), Jasmine Crockett (TX-30), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Valerie Foushee (NC-04), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (IL-04), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Al Green (TX-09), Glenn Ivey (MD-04), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Summer Lee (PA-12), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Adam Smith (WA-09), Mark Takano (CA-39), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Jill Tokuda (Hawai'i-02), Nydia Velázquez (NY-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Don Payne (NJ-10), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), and Maxwell Frost (FL-10).
Cosponsors in the Senate include Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and
Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
The bill is endorsed by: Center for Disability Rights, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Leadership Conference, Civil Rights Corp, URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, National Immigration Project (NIPNLG), Muslim Advocates, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), Innocence Project, Campaign To End Qualified Immunity, Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention, DC Democratic Caucus For Returning Citizens, National Black Justice Coalition, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, American Atheists, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Women's Community Justice Association, Long Island Social Justice Action Network, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Amnesty International USA, Open Society Policy Center, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Transformations CDC, American Sustainable Business Council, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Constitutional Accountability Center, Japanese American Citizens League, Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), Project On Government Oversight, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Earthjustice, Players Coalition, Demand Justice, MomsRising, Public Justice, The Advocacy and Action Board of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church, Alabama Justice Initiative, Human Rights Watch, Drug Policy Alliance, Our Revolution, Center for Constitutional Rights, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), American Civil Liberties Union, Sierra Club, National Partnership for Women and Families, Center for Constitutional Rights, Equal Justice Society, Defending Rights and Dissent, Mainers for Accountable Leadership, Rights & Democracy NH, Rights & Democracy VT, DemCast USA, #NoRA, Jamaica Plain Progressives, Peace Action, American Family Voices, The Institute for Justice, Common Defense, Border Network for Human Rights, Indivisible Georgia Coalition, Hispanic Federation, National Equality Action Team, We Testify, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Physicians for Reproductive Health, Indivisible San Francisco, Demand Progress, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Protect Democracy, Giffords, Children’s Defense Fund, and Black Lives Matter Grassroots.
The Ending Qualified Immunity Act was originally introduced in June 2020 by Senator Markey, Congresswoman Pressley, and then-Congressman Justin Amash (I-MI) following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. The bill is informed by Congresswoman Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee, her bold framework to transform the American criminal legal system. In June 2020, Senator Markey joined Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), then-Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), then-Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (CA-37), and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10) in introducing the Justice in Policing Act to increase data collection on police violence and improve police training to end excessive brutality and force used by law enforcement.