WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Lawmakers say they want to make it easier for police brutality victims to sue law enforcement, but they say one Supreme Court doctrine stands in the way.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-MO, and a growing number of Democrats are calling to eliminate what’s known as qualified immunity. This rule currently shields police officers from lawsuits. They say it contributes to police brutality.
“We need to hold law enforcement accountable,” Clay said. “Qualified immunity needs to be eliminated.”
In 2014, Clay’s St. Louis district was the epicenter of protests after police killed Michael Brown.
Clay says the “qualified immunity doctrine” the Supreme Court established in the 1960s shields bad cops from lawsuits and denies victims justice.
“Law enforcement or otherwise, you should not have some kind of blanket immunity to commit crimes against others to even committed murder,” he said.
Congressional Democrats are pushing new legislation to eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement officers to make it easier for victims to sue. So far, no Republicans have signed on.
Republican Senator and former Missouri attorney general Josh Hawley says he’ll consider the bill.
“The devils in the details. I’d like to see exactly they’re proposing to do,” he said
But ultimately, the fate of rule may be up to the courts.
“All of these legal doctrines are a balance,” Paul Schiff Berman, law professor at George Washington University.
Berman says qualified immunity is intended to protect officials from frivolous lawsuits. But the Supreme Court may decide to narrow its scope.
“Right now, it’s being used in a way that provides essentially absolute immunity to police officers, so you could limit the doctrine,” Berman said.
The Supreme Court could decide to take up the issue as early as next week.