Blumenauer, Pressley Reintroduce Legislation to Fully End Qualified Immunity

March 1, 2021
Press Release
Unjust doctrine shields police officers from accountability for misconduct and criminal behavior

Across the country, police and law enforcement officers continue to escape legal accountability when they break the law, shielded from liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity. Today, U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) reintroduced the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, which would eliminate qualified immunity and restore needed accountability in the criminal justice system.

“From Oregon to Massachusetts, we have repeatedly seen our country’s policing system, and then the justice system, fail people of color,” Blumenauer said. “Enough is enough. Systematic change is long overdue. Eliminating the problematic practice of qualified immunity is one critical step we must take toward accountability and justice.” 

“We must fully end the doctrine of qualified immunity which for too long has shielded law enforcement from accountability and denied recourse for the countless families robbed of their loved ones,” Pressley said. “There can be no justice without healing and accountability, and there can be no true accountability with qualified immunity. We must act with urgency. We must be bold and unapologetic in our pursuit of policy that increases police accountability and addresses the crisis of police brutality plaguing Black and brown communities.”

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (now found under Section 1983), Congress granted individuals the right to sue state and local officials who violate their rights, including police officers. However, since 1967, the Supreme Court has issued several decisions gutting this protection by inventing the qualified immunity doctrine, rendering police officers from being successfully sued for misconduct, negligence, or abuse, a unique protection that no other non-government profession holds. The court’s broad interpretation of this doctrine has allowed police to violate constitutional rights with impunity, providing officers immunity for everything from unlawful traffic stops to brutality and murder.

The Ending Qualified Immunity Act reintroduced today by Blumenauer and Pressley codifies that the qualified immunity doctrine is not grounds for defense for violations of the law. Specifically, the bill would amend Section 1983 to explicitly state that the qualified immunity doctrine invented by the Supreme Court does not provide police officers that brutalize or otherwise violate civil rights with defense or immunity from liability for their actions. It also clarifies Congress’ original intent for Section 1983 and notes the history and necessity of this protection.

The legislation is endorsed by dozens of civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Civil Rights Corp, Innocence Project, Campaign to End Qualified Immunity, National Black Justice Coalition, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, and more.

Full text of the legislation can be found here.