Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine invented out of whole cloth by the U.S. Supreme Court that protects government agents, including particularly law enforcement officers, who violate someone’s constitutional rights from federal civil liability. This website is dedicated to explaining how and why the qualified immunity doctrine needs to be eliminated.
There are many technical aspects to the doctrine, which are discussed in more detail elsewhere on this site, but the general public needs to know these four basic facts.
Qualified immunity is:
- Unfair: When a government official violates your civil rights, you should be compensated. Qualified immunity denies compensation to individuals who have been wronged by the government.
- Unaccountable: Law enforcement agencies at every level of government have proven unable or unwilling to appropriately discipline officers who violate people’s constitutional rights. Likewise, it is nearly impossible to convict an officer for violating someone’s rights while they were on duty. Thus, in most cases, suing an officer is the only viable means a victim has of seeking redress for a constitutional violation. But qualified immunity shields officers from lawsuits even when the court finds that they violated an individual’s constitutional rights.
- Unjustifiable: Qualified immunity is based on flimsy, historical rationale that has no legitimate basis in the law. There is no ambiguity in the text of federal civil rights law or the relevant legislative history that supports the qualified immunity doctrine.
- Unlawful: Qualified immunity eviscerates the nation’s most important civil rights law. Specifically, it undermines a part of the U.S. Code—lawyers refer to it simply as “Section 1983”—that was enacted after the Civil War to make sure state and local government officials were held accountable for violating people’s constitutional rights.
For these reasons, we call qualified immunity the “unlawful shield” for officers who violate your rights.