June 15, 2020

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the American Civil Liberties Union’s petition in Baxter vs. Bracey, a challenge to the legal rule of “qualified immunity” that prevents victims of government misconduct from holding officials liable when those officials violate constitutional rights.

The rule, often asserted by law enforcement as a shield from allegations of excessive force or improper searches, provides that officers cannot be held liable for a constitutional violation if the right they are accused of violating isn’t “clearly established” — meaning a constitutional violation alone does not entitle the victim to relief.

David Cole, national legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union highlighted the implications of the court’s decision on police accountability and Congress’ responsibility to abolish the doctrine:  

“The Supreme Court’s deeply disappointing decision today to punt on the critical issue of official immunity, in this time of national reckoning over police violence, places the ball squarely in Congress’s court. Justice Thomas’s dissent from the denial of review in the ACLU’s challenge to qualified immunity underscores how far off course the law has strayed. We have seen the deadly consequences play out on the streets, and Black Americans have largely paid the price. Recent events demonstrate the urgent need for Congress to stand up for the rule of law and abolish qualified immunity — for anyone acting under color of law — to close the loophole allowing government officials to escape accountability for violating constitutional rights.”

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