The New York Times (NYT) Editorial Board comes out against qualified immunity (QI). Leading up to the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25, the New York Times Editorial Board calls for an end to the unjust doctrine that shields bad cops from accountability.
The NYT Editorial Board wrote a piece titled “End the Court Doctrine That Enables Police Brutality.” This piece is part of the paper’s George Floyd and America series. Floyd’s death triggered a nationwide demand for greater police accountability. It also propelled congressional lawmakers to create the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (JPA). Among its provisions, the ambitious police reform package aims to end QI. As the NYT notes, QI is “the main sticking point” in the JPA. Most Republicans, the Times notes, oppose “any liability for individual officers.”
The article explores the long, troubled history of the controversial doctrine. It discusses the harm done by bad cops like Derek Chauvin. And it provides examples of cases where courts “[split] hairs to give [bad cops] a pass” to protect their “egregious misconduct.”
As part of their investigation into qualified immunity, the NYT spoke to prominent legal scholars who oppose the doctrine. One of these is Barry Friedman. He’s a law professor at New York University and a founder of the Policing Project. Professor Friedman says that QI “makes no sense whatsoever.” In fact, as it currently exists, the doctrine is “completely off the rails.”
Despite Republican opposition to ending QI, the Times does state that, overall, “ending qualified immunity has become that rarely seen phenomenon in modern American politics: a bipartisan effort.” For example, both conservative groups such as the Cato Institute and liberal ones such as the Institute for Justice (IJ) advocate for QI reform (Both Cato and IJ are coalition partners of the nonpartisan Campaign to End Qualified Immunity.) Similarly, two Supreme Court justices from opposing ends of the ideological spectrum also believe that QI is harmful. These are Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor.
Ultimately, the New York Times’ Editorial Board makes it clear where it stands on police accountability and qualified immunity. “If the rule of law means anything,” the board concludes, “it means that those sworn to enforce it should not be above it.”
Read the entire article from the NYT Editorial Board here.