“No one should get used to their rights. Predicting with certainty which ones, if any, will go, or when, is impossible.”—Mary R. Ziegler, legal historian
The Supreme Court has spoken: there will be no consequences for cops who brutalize the citizenry and no justice for the victims of police brutality.
Although the Court’s 2021-22 rulings on qualified immunity for police who engage in official misconduct were largely overshadowed by its politically polarizing rulings on abortion, gun ownership and religion, they were no less devastating.
The doctrine of qualified immunity was intended to insulate government officials from frivolous lawsuits, but the real purpose of qualified immunity is to ensure that government officials are not held accountable for official misconduct.
In Egbert v. Boule, the Court gave total immunity to Border Patrol agents who beat up a bed-and-breakfast owner, in the process carving out a massive exception to the Fourth Amendment for border police (and by extension, other federal police) who unconstitutionally use excessive force. As journalist Ian Millhiser concludes, “Egbert v. Boule is a severe blow to the proposition that law enforcement must obey the Constitution.”
In Cope v. Cogdill, the Court let stand a Fifth Circuit ruling that granted qualified immunity to jail officials who watched a suicidal inmate strangle himself without intervening or calling for help. Likewise, in Ramirez v. Guadarrama, the Court let stand a lower court ruling granting qualified immunity to police officers who fired their tasers at a suicidal man who had doused himself in gasoline, causing the man to burst into flames.
Both Cope and Ramirez move the goal posts for the kind of misconduct that merits qualified immunity, suggesting that even sheer incompetence is excusable when it involves a cop.
It’s a chilling reminder that in the American police state, ‘we the people’ are at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to ‘serve and protect.”
This is how unarmed Americans keep dying at the hands of militarized police.