Clarence Thomas blasts qualified immunity (QI). As Reason notes, the Supreme Court Justice “is no liberal hero.” In fact, he is one of SCOTUS’ most conservative judges. However, he’s also a vocal critic of qualified immunity. And, once again, Justice Clarence Thomas speaks out against the unethical doctrine.
As Reason’s Billy Binion writes, ending qualified immunity “has primarily been championed by Democrats, tied to police reform legislation that Republicans have resisted.” Still, that doesn’t make repealing the doctrine a partisan issue. True, congressional progressives champion the cause. But, the call for greater accountability cuts through ideological lines. Clarence Thomas blasting QI is a great example of this.
“As I have noted before, our qualified immunity jurisprudence stands on shaky ground,” Justice Thomas recently said.
The Reason article highlights two QI-related cases Justice Clarence Thomas blasted.
First, there’s Baxter v. Bracey. This case concerns Alexander Baxter. Bad cops sicced an attack dog on Baxter, a homeless man. Baxter was unarmed, sitting on the ground with his hands in the air. Baxter survived, but sustained injuries. He sued. And the court granted QI to the bad cops who harmed him. As Reason indicates, SCOTUS declined to hear Baxter’s case. Justice Thomas, the publication notes, was “the lone dissenter.” Furthermore, he expressed “skepticism” over the lower court’s decision. (Above the Law, Ben Cohen’s new book on QI, features Alexander Baxter’s story.)
Second, we have Hoggard v Rhodes. What makes this case particularly interesting is that it doesn’t involve bad cops. Instead, it involves bad university administrators. Ashlyn Hoggard, a college student, filed a lawsuit against Arkansas State University. She said school administrators violated her First Amendment rights. According to Hoggard, administrators punished her for setting up a recruiting table in front of the student union. Again, the courts sided with the administors. They weren’t held accountable. The school officials got qualified immunity.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas also wasn’t pleased with this decision. “Why should university officers…receive the same protection as a police officer who makes a split-second decision to use force in a dangerous setting?” Justice Clarence Thomas said. “We have never offered a satisfactory explanation to this question.”
There isn’t a satisfactory explanation. But there is a clear solution: ending qualified immunity. Not just for bad cops, but all state and federal actors who violate someone’s rights. Justice Clarence Thomas knows this. Which is why he continues to blast qualified immunity.