The Supreme Court Monday declined to consider eight cases challenging a legal doctrine known as “qualified immunity,” most notably used to dismiss civil lawsuits filed against police officers for use of force.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a dissent filed for the oldest case related to qualified immunity that he has “strong doubts” about how the court applies the doctrine, and said the court should review it, Route Fifty reported.
The doctrine of qualified immunity was intended to shield government employees from pointless prosecution, Route Fifty reported. An individual has to demonstrate an officer broke a “clearly established law” in order to sue, but Thomas wrote in his dissenting opinion that there might not be a precedent for that sort of legal test.
“There likely is no basis for the objective inquiry into clearly established law that our modern cases prescribe,” Thomas wrote. “Leading treatises from the second half of the 19th century and case law until the 1980s contain no support for this ‘clearly established law’ test.”
The court’s decision comes amid nationwide protests set off by the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Some protesters have called for police reform, defunding departments and an end to qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, Reuters reported.
Some legal specialists have said that the justices have an obligation to address the cases since the court developed qualified immunity doctrine about 50 years ago, Route Fifty reported. (RELATED: Reducing Qualified Immunity Is A ‘Non-Starter’ For Trump On Police Reform)
“Qualified immunity is a failure as a matter of law and as a matter of policy,” said Robert McNamara, an Institute for Justice senior attorney, Route Fifty reported. “The court chose not to confront the problem today but that does not make the problem go away,” McNamara added.
The @ACLU is right: SCOTUS’s denial of their petition in Baxter v. Bracey means Congress has to act now to end qualified immunity. The @civilrightsorg police accountability framework includes ending this doctrine so police can be held legally accountable when they break the law.
— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) June 15, 2020
An investigation conducted by Reuters found that it is easier for police to get away with excessive use of force under qualified immunity. Police were regularly not held liable when a lower court ruled the use of force violated the Fourth Amendment based on the Supreme Court’s decision, Reuters found.
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