Republican Senator Announcing Legislation To Reform Qualified Immunity

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Republican Indiana Sen. Mike Braun will unveil legislation Tuesday to scale back qualified immunity for police, making him the first Republican Senator to do so. 

Braun’s bill will tackle the controversial qualified immunity doctrine, which renders officers immune from civil suits unless the officer violates a “clearly established” right that a “reasonable officer” who was on the scene would have known. (RELATED: Majority Of Voters Support Major Police Reforms, But Not ‘Defund The Police,’ Poll Shows)

Under the senator’s Reforming Qualified Immunity Act, officials would only be allowed to claim qualified immunity if their conduct had previously been authorized or had been found Constitutional by a court of law, the Washington Post reported. Under the legislation, an official’s good faith belief that their conduct was lawful would not render them immune to a civil suit. 

“When I talk about reforming it, it’s this simple: make sure that in these egregious instances, that there is accountability, and you’re not protected, just like you aren’t in other elements of society,” the senator said according to The Hill

He added that reforms need to be made without “hampering already the toughest job that’s out there with frivolous lawsuits.”

“I think that can be done,” he said. “I’m for anything that enhances personal responsibility, accountability, and transparency.”

Qualified immunity has been part of a larger conversation about race relations and police brutality following nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died May 25 in police custody.

House Democrats and Senate Republicans have both introduced police reform bills. The Democrats’ bill includes qualified immunity reforms, but the GOP bill does not, The Hill reported. 

Legislation to eliminate qualified immunity was also introduced earlier this month by Democratic Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressly and Independent Michigan Representative Justin Amash, according to the Washington Post. 

Braun said that the GOP bill’s proposed reforms are “low hanging fruit,” according to the Washington Post. The police bill would discourage the use of certain police tactics like chokeholds and no-knock warrants, but does not ban them. 

“Everybody knows” that we need to do something about qualified immunity, Braun reportedly said. The doctrine protects “those acting under the color of the law, even when they commit egregious acts which deprive fellow citizens of their constitutional and statutory rights,” he added. 

Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott called ending qualified immunity a “poison pill” that is “off the table,” and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said last week that eliminating the doctrine “would make the streets of this country a whole lot less secure,” the Washington Post reported.

Some Republican lawmakers have talked about the possibility of reforming qualified immunity. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsay Graham said that lawmakers could “see if we could make it better, not gut it,” according to The Hill.

Republican South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds said that he is “very, very hesitant” to support reforms without a full understanding of the consequences, adding that he thinks Republicans are “all over the board right now.”

Braun said that reforming qualified immunity in a “common-sense way” could elicit a more positive response from President Donald Trump than completely eliminating it. He stressed that his proposal “is for reforming it and not getting rid of it.”