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Is It Time to End Qualified Immunity for Cops?

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2022-10-28 12:00:00
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Upcoming Debate   October 28, 2022

Is It Time to End Qualified Immunity for Cops?

How does one balance two important, though at times competing, public interests? In this case, it’s the need to hold public officials accountable versus the need to shield those officials from harassment and legal liability. In 1967, the US Supreme Court lay the foundations of an answer during a case involving two police officers, sued over civil rights violations carried out at a segregated bus stop in Jackson, Mississippi. The court effectively ruled that if unconstitutional arrests were made in good faith and with probable cause, officers then enjoyed a degree of legal immunity. That case then served as bedrock for a legal doctrine that later came to be known as “qualified immunity;” a concept that effectively provides government officials with immunity from civil suits in certain circumstances. In 1982, the court went further, codifying qualified immunity for officials and rendering subjective intent of the official immaterial. In other words, whether or not a defendant was acting in good faith was effectively considered irrelevant. Under the revised doctrine, cases could proceed to trial only when there was a clear violation of “established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Since then, critics have argued that this doctrine stands as a central barrier to substantive police reform, allowing officers to more easily to kill or injure with impunity. But advocates say it’s a necessary protection, shielding police officers – who are tasked with making split-second life-and-death decisions – from bankruptcy and vindictive personal lawsuits. In this context, we debate this question: Is It Time to End Qualified Immunity for Cops?

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ABOUT THE DEBATERS
For The Motion
Anya Bidwell
Anya Bidwell - Institute for Justice Attorney and its Elfie Gallun Fellow in Freedom and the Constitution.
Anya Bidwell is an attorney with the Institute for Justice and one of the leaders of the Immunity an... Read bio
Against The Motion
John G. Malcolm
John G. Malcolm - Vice President at the Institute for Constitutional Government at the Heritage Foundation
John G. Malcolm oversees The Heritage Foundation’s work to increase understanding of the Constitut... Read bio