The conversation around qualified immunity has returned to the forefront, following Tyre Nichols’ fatal police beating on January 7.
The court-created rule that shields police and other public officials from accountability was the main sticking point during negotiations over the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which stalled in the Senate nearly two years ago.
Countering federal inaction, individual states began taking the lead on holding police accountable for their misconduct—most notably, Colorado and New Mexico, which ended qualified immunity in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Now, in 2023, the list of states setting their sights on abolishing the controversial doctrine keeps growing.
Washington State lawmakers, led by Rep. My-Linh Thai, recently introduced House Bill 1025, which would overhaul qualified immunity. According to The Seattle Times, “Ending qualified immunity is a stated goal of the city of Seattle’s 2023 legislative agenda, proposed by the mayor, approved by the City Council, and supported by the majority of the [Seattle Community Police Commission].”
In Maryland, Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, sponsor of HB 430, the bill to end qualified immunity, addressed the importance of police accountability: “We must reject the idea that accountability for police officers is anti-police or harmful to public safety. Police accountability is public safety.”
With SB 182, Senator Robert Jackson continues to push for community safety in the Empire State. As he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, “No public official should be above the law or protected when they violate our rights.”
Responding to the police killing of Tyre Nichols, three Georgia lawmakers have introduced a package of police reform bills. Among them: House Bill 107, which would end qualified immunity. “We must rebuild and restore trust in law enforcement,” said Rep. Viola Davis, a co-sponsor, “especially within the Black community.”
On February 15, Rhode Island State Rep. Jose Batista and four of his fellow Democrats introduced House Bill 5568, which “would allow people to sue in state court for violations of the U.S. Constitution or laws of the United States, as well as the Rhode Island state constitution,” per Tenth Amendment Center.
Seeking accountability for the botched police response to the Uvalde massacre, Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez introduced Senate Bill 575, which aims to end qualified immunity. “We’re not asking for the moon and the stars. We’re asking for commonsense solutions,” Gutierrez said at a news conference, where he was flanked by families of the school shooting victims.
In addition to these new slate of bills, at the end of last year, the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the right of residents to sue government officials under the state constitution. “Nationally speaking, this decision…rejects the judge-made disaster that is qualified immunity,” noted Ben Field, an attorney for the Institute for Justice.
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