Legal immunity for police misconduct, under attack from left and right, may get Supreme Court review

Legal immunity for police misconduct, under attack from left and right, may get Supreme Court review

WASHINGTON – The brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has re-energized a national debate over misconduct by law enforcement officials that the Supreme Court may be poised to enter. The justices could announce as early as Monday that they will consider if law enforcement and other officials continue to deserve "qualified immunity" that protects them from being sued for official actions. The high court itself established that protection in a series of decisions dating back several decades, letting police off the hook unless their behavior violated "clearly established" laws or constitutional rights. Lower courts have used that standard to uphold almost any actions not specifically forbidden. But in recent years, justices, lower court judges and scholars on both the left and right have questioned that legal doctrine for creating a nearly impossible standard for victims to meet and a nearly blanket immunity for those accused of misconduct. The justices have been reviewing more than a dozen cases involving public officials' invocation of qualified immunity with an eye toward choosing one or more to hear next term. If they move ahead, it would indicate that at least several justices want to cut back on such immunity. The timing of their review process on the heels of Floyd's death in Minneapolis is purely coincidental. But the 46-year-old African American man's treatment puts the issue in the spotlight. "It's a vivid and tragic example of our culture of near-zero accountability for police officers," says Jay Schweikert, a criminal justice analyst at ...
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