Sunday, February 2, 2020

Recent news about the debate on qualified immunity: the Institute for Justice joins the fight

As you know, the doctrine of qualified immunity recognizes a defense for certain government officials from liability for injuries caused by their conduct.  It applies, for example, to prosecutors when they engage in investigative or administrative tasks, which is often limited to conduct before an indictment.  And, of course, it applies to many other government officials when engaging in their official capacities.

The doctrine exists to provide protection to those officials so they can perform their duties without fear that their decisions will be later questioned or second-guessed by courts, a position that is justified by the principle of separation of powers.

The doctrine, however, is not particularly old and it is not universally accepted.  The Cato Institute has referred to it as "an atextual, ahistorical doctrine invented by the Supreme Court in the 1960s" and as "a court‐​confected doctrine that provides rights‐​violating police and other government officials with an unlawful shield against accountability for their misconduct."

To do something about this, the Cato institute launched a strategic campaign to challenge the doctrine on March 1, 2018, the centerpiece of which has been a series of targeted amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to reverse its precedents and eliminate the doctrine outright. In addition, the Institute has organized a massive cross‐​ideological alliance of public interest groups opposed to qualified immunity.  This "alliance" includes the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Second Amendment Foundation.

I am writing about this today because yet another group has officially announced it will join the campaign.  About two weeks ago (on Feb 15), The Wall Street Journal published an op‐​ed by Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert McNamara, in which he describes IJ’s decision to join the battle against qualified immunity.  You can read it here if you have a subscription.

For more on the CATO Institute's position on this issue go here.

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