Civil and Human Rights

RELEASE: Qualified Immunity: The Only Way to Fix It Is to End It

WASHINGTON – As the House Judiciary Committee holds an oversight hearing on “Policing Practices and Law Enforcement Accountability,” Constitutional Accountability Center filed testimony with the Committee exploring the text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment, explaining why Congress should end the judge-made doctrine of qualified immunity altogether.

Discussing this testimony, CAC President Elizabeth Wydra issued the following statement:

The Fourteenth Amendment was drafted more than 150 years ago, in part, to redress—and prevent—the same police violence against African Americans our nation suffers to this very day. That Amendment, enshrined in the Constitution against a backdrop of horrific massacres in which white police officers killed hundreds of African Americans in cold blood, provides Congress with broad power to curb unjustified police use of force. 

In 1871, the Reconstruction Congress passed Section 1983 to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment and ensure that individuals could go to court to redress constitutional violations and obtain justice. But the Supreme Court later created a doctrine immunizing state actors from accountability called “qualified immunity,” effectively barring the courthouse doors for many whose constitutional rights have been violated. 

As our testimony makes clear, qualified immunity has eroded the enforcement of constitutional rights, undermined the rule of law, and denied justice to those victimized by the police, letting the cycle of police violence and brutality repeat over and over again. The long line of police killings of unarmed Black people —George Floyd and Breonna Taylor among the most recent—is the result of a system that breeds police unaccountability.

At long last, Congress must redeem the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment when it comes to police accountability. There must be no mistake: Congress can only fix the qualified immunity doctrine by ending it once and for all.

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Resources:

“Statement of the Constitutional Accountability Center, Oversight Hearing on ‘Policing Practices and Law Enforcement Accountability,’” House Committee on the Judiciary, June 10, 2020: https://www.theusconstitution.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2020-06-10-Statement-of-the-Constitutional-Accountability-Center-on-_Policing-Practices-and-Law-Enforcement-Accountability_.pdf

“‘We Do Not Want to be Hunted’: The Right to be Secure and Our Constitutional Story of Race and Policing,” David H. Gans, SSRN, June 8, 2020 (forthcoming, Columbia Journal of Race and the Law): https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3622599 

“CAC Endorses the Ending Qualified Immunity Act,” Statement of Elizabeth Wydra, June 5, 2020: https://www.theusconstitution.org/news/release-cac-endorses-the-ending-qualified-immunity-act/ 

“The Supreme Court Enabled Horrific Police Violence by Ignoring Constitutional History,” David H. Gans, Slate, June 3, 2020: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/06/supreme-court-enabled-george-floyd-murder-police-violence.html

“Civil Rights Coalition Letter on Federal Policing Priorities,” Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, June 1, 2020: https://civilrights.org/resource/civil-rights-coalition-letter-on-federal-policing-priorities/ 

“To Restore Accountability for Police Abuse, Reform of ‘Qualified Immunity’ Is Overdue,” CAC Blog, Brian Frazelle, April 17, 2020: https://www.theusconstitution.org/blog/to-restore-accountability-for-police-abuse-reform-of-qualified-immunity-is-overdue/

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Constitutional Accountability Center is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. Visit CAC’s website at www.theusconstitution.org.

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