One of our most important federal civil rights statutes allows individuals to sue state and local officials who violate their constitutional rights. This remedy is crucial not just to secure relief for individual claimants whose rights are violated, but also to ensure accountability and professionalism in law enforcement.
But the Supreme Court has created a major hurdle for civil rights plaintiffs through the judge-made doctrine of “qualified immunity.” This doctrine holds that law enforcement officers will be shielded from liability for unlawful misconduct unless the plaintiff can show that the officer violated “clearly established law.” The courts have aggressively applied this standard to require not just a clear legal rule but also a prior case with functionally similar facts. The end result is that police may get away with egregious unlawful conduct simply because no case already on the books has the same fact pattern.
Please join us for a forum marking the beginning of Cato’s campaign to challenge and roll back qualified immunity, as our distinguished panel discusses the law and history of the doctrine, its effect on civil rights litigation, and the implications for police accountability.