Washington, D.C. — As the sustained protests over police violence this summer highlighted, it is nearly impossible to hold police and other government officials accountable when they are accused of using excessive force. Over the past three decades, Supreme Court precedent has increasingly insulated government officials from liability.
A new report from the Center for American Progress urges federal and state legislatures to take action to ensure that government officials can be held accountable when their actions violate constitutional and civil rights. This must include not only the elimination of qualified immunity but also the passage of legislation that lets victims bring civil damages actions against federal officials and individuals who commit violations under color of federal law.
“Comprehensive change is needed to correct the severe imbalance that has closed the doors of justice to people who have had their civil rights violated by government officials,” said Maggie Jo Buchanan, director of Legal Progress at CAP. “Policymakers must act to ensure ordinary people can go to court and protect the rights and liberties guaranteed to individuals by the U.S. Constitution and federal law.”
The Supreme Court’s limitation on the ability of individuals to challenge abuses by federal officials was highlighted recently by the February 2020 decision in Hernández v. Mesa, which granted immunity to a U.S. Border Patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican teenager standing across the border.
“Decisions such as these send a signal that even future violations will typically be met with impunity,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president of Immigration Policy at CAP. “Lawmakers must take action to ensure that rights have remedies.”
Read the report: “Promoting Accountability: State and Federal Officials Shouldn’t Be Above the Law” by Maggie Jo Buchanan, Tom Jawetz, and Stephanie Wylie
For more information on this topic or to talk to an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at gro.ssergorpnacirema@lenanahs or 202-478-6327.