“During the summer of 2020, the federal government seemed poised to offer some sort of reform to qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields local and state government actors—not just police—from facing federal civil suits when they violate someone’s constitutional rights, so long as the way they infringe on the Constitution has not been “clearly established” in prior case law. That explains, for example, why two cops who allegedly stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant could not be sued for that act: While we would expect most people to know that was wrong, there was no court precedent that said theft under such circumstances was a constitutional violation.
It’s an exacting standard that can defy parody in the ways in which it prevents victims of government abuse from seeking damages in response to government misconduct. In the case of Tyre Nichols, for example, it’s quite plausible that the officers who killed him could be convicted of murder and still receive qualified immunity—a testament to how disjointed and unforgiving the doctrine can be.”
“Those skeptical of qualified immunity reform typically cite an uneasiness about bankrupting officers. They can take heart that cities indemnify their employees against such claims, meaning the government pays any settlement. It’s certainly an imperfect solution in terms of holding individual bad actors accountable, but it gives victims of state abuse an outlet to achieve some semblance of reparation. Make it so any settlements come out of a police pension fund, and you’ve created a major incentive for departments to excise its consistently problematic actors.”