USA TODAY International Edition

Other Views: Why qualified immunity needs reforming

- Sylvia Gonzalez, USA TODAY:

“Coming from a law enforcemen­t family, I never had issues with police in my life – not even a traffic ticket. As the first Hispanic woman elected to the City Council of Castle Hills, Texas, and having lived here for 20 years, my campaign issue was fair treatment for everyone, not just the well- connected. I was so happy when I won in 2019. Little did I know that soon after, crooked politician­s and their friends would use the power of the government to violate my constituti­onal rights by removing me from office, and even throwing me in jail, because city officials didn’t like being criticized for doing bad work. That’s not the end of my story, however. Because of the obscure and immoral judge- created doctrine of qualified immunity, my efforts to enforce my First and 14th Amendment rights have been thwarted by excessive delays. ... Despite the extreme stress, I believe it is my duty to stand up to try to ensure that others are not silenced the way I was.”

Joanna Schwartz, USA TODAY:

“Qualified immunity protects police officers and other government officials from being sued for money damages – even if they have violated the Constituti­on – if they have not violated ‘ clearly establishe­d’ law. The Supreme Court has made clear that, in most cases, the law is not clearly establishe­d unless a court previously held nearly identical facts to be unconstitu­tional. ... Why has the Supreme Court adopted such a difficult standard? Because, according to the court, only a prior case with nearly identical facts will put an officer on notice that he has violated the Constituti­on. ... Officers are educated about watershed decisions ... but are not regularly or reliably educated about court decisions interpreti­ng those watershed decisions. ... If we keep qualified immunity, the definition of ‘ clearly establishe­d law’ should be changed to reflect how officers are actually educated about the scope of their authority.”

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