U.S. Supreme Court protects police in ‘qualified immunity’ ruling

by Mike Creef, Staff Writer
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The U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling last week, kept its position of backing police accused in lawsuits of using excessive force. 

The justices overturned a lower court’s decision that allowed a trial in a lawsuit against officers Josh Girdner and Brandon Vick over the 2016 fatal shooting of a hammer-wielding man in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

The case was decided without oral arguments with no public dissents from the justices in the case.

qualified immunity new york city supreme court

A Police officer arrests Lorises Tercero in front of the US Courthouse during a protest demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and also in solidarity with Portland’s protests, in Downtown Los Angeles, California, on July 25, 2020. (Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

Supreme Court supports qualified immunity

New York City recently became the first major U.S. city to end qualified immunity in the nation. With over 35,000 full-time officers, NYC’s City Council voted 37-11 to end qualified immunity for its police officers in March. 

The qualified immunity defense protects police and other government officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances, permitting lawsuits only when an individual’s “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights have been violated.

The rulings indicated that the justices think lower courts still are denying qualified immunity too frequently in police excessive force cases, having previously chided appeals courts on that issue in recent years.

No Justice for George Floyd

A major hurdle in the since-failed George Floyd Justice in Policing bill was the issue of qualified immunity. Even with Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ, gaining support from two of the nation’s largest police organizations, one being the Fraternal Order of Police, to end qualified immunity, the bill was held up by Senator Tim Scott, R-SC. 

A 2020 Reuters investigation revealed how qualified immunity, with the Supreme Court’s continual refinements, has made it easier for police officers to kill or injure civilians with impunity.

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