Supreme Court won't consider limiting police immunity from civil lawsuits
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court refused on Monday to rethink the legal immunity of lawsuits that are generally directed against the police and other officials accused of misconduct.
The judges' decision not to hear a case about qualified immunity during their next term, which begins in October, follows the death of George Floyd, an African American, in police custody in Minneapolis last month. His murder led to days of unrest, peaceful protests in the United States and renewed national debate about racism and police brutality.
The Supreme Court has set a high bar for prosecuting lawsuits over past decades. Official behavior must violate "clearly defined" laws or constitutional rights, and courts have found that this is rarely the case, since almost every specific claim is different.
Some judges, judges and scholars from the lower courts on both the left and right sides have questioned this legal doctrine in order to create an almost impossible standard for victims and an almost universal immunity for those accused of misconduct.
Formerly: Legal immunity for police misconduct that is attacked from the left and right can be checked by the Supreme Court
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas contested the decision not to hear a new qualified immunity case that was a burglar who surrendered and was then bitten by a police dog.
"I previously expressed my doubts about our qualified immunity case law," he wrote. "Since our ... qualified immunity teaching seems to deviate from the legal text, I would agree to this petition."
By refusing to hear a case, the court does not necessarily signal that it will never waive or significantly reduce qualified immunity. Chief Justice John Roberts in particular prefers small steps to big changes in court precedent.
During protests after George Floyd's death, people hold signs near the headquarters of the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct.
The judges had examined more than a dozen petitions involving officials who had qualified immunity before examples of police brutality in Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky caught the nation's attention.
In the case that caused Thomas's contradiction, a Tennessee man was bitten by a police dog, who was released on him while his hands were in the air. In another case, a 10-year-old boy from Georgia was shot in his back yard by the police, who were chasing an unarmed suspect. In a third case, the California police, who were looking for a gang member, used tear gas grenades instead of the house key that his ex-girlfriend had given them.
David Cole, national legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, highlighted the impact of the court's decision on police accountability and Congress's responsibility to abolish the doctrine:
"We saw the fatal aftermath on the streets and the black Americans largely paid the price," said Cole. "Recent events show that Congress urgently needs to uphold the rule of law and abolish qualified immunity - for those who act under the color of the law - to fill the void that allows government officials to assume responsibility for violating To withdraw constitutional rights. "
The Supreme Court has given the police and other officials considerable leeway in most cases where their behavior has been questioned.
• In February, the court's conservatives ruled that the family of a Mexican teenage boy shot dead by a US border guard could not claim damages because of the border between them.
• In 2017, the court ruled that Bush administration officials cannot be held liable for the detention and harsh treatment of illegal immigrants in the catastrophic days after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
• In 2015, the judges ruled that the California police were entitled to protection after they violently entered a woman with an intellectual disability and shot her.
William Baude, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and a leading scientist for qualified immunity, documented in 2018 that the Supreme Court ruled in 30 cases over two decades that official behavior violated clearly defined laws only twice.
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas
Two of the court's current judges have resisted this trend from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.
Thomas, the most conservative member of the court, has complained that the doctrine has no historical basis. The court, he said in a 2017 case, routinely replaces "our own political preferences for Congress' mandates".
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, arguably the most liberal member, said in 2015 that "the court's one-sided approach to qualified immunity turns the doctrine into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers."
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Police Misconduct: The Supreme Court will not consider removing immunity
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