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April 20, 2023

Boston Herald Endorses Pressley-Markey Bill to End Qualified Immunity

Bill Eliminates Court-Invented Doctrine of Qualified Immunity, Restores Legal Recourse for Victims of Police Brutality, Other Civil Rights Violations

WASHINGTON – In an editorial published today, the Boston Herald endorsed the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, legislation by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) to eliminate the unjust and court-invented doctrine of qualified immunity and restore the ability for people to obtain relief when state and local officials, including police officers, violate their legal and constitutionally secured rights. 

Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Markey reintroduced the Ending Qualified Immunity Act yesterday at a press conference with impacted families and advocates. The bill was originally introduced in June 2020 by Congresswoman Pressley, Senator Markey and then-Congressman Justin Amash (L-MI) and is informed by Rep. Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee, her bold framework to transform the American criminal legal system.

The Boston Herald editorial is available online here and the full text can be found below.

Boston Herald Editorial: End qualified immunity to weed out bad cops

April 20, 2023

There are good cops. There are bad cops. And there’s legislation that could help police departments separate the wheat from the chaff.

Massachusetts Democrats Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey have reintroduced legislation to end qualified immunity, a doctrine that protects government officials from individual liability for violating personal and constitutional rights, as The Hill reported.

The Ending Qualified Immunity Act would restore Americans’ ability to obtain relief when state and local officials, including police officers, violate citizens’ legal and constitutional rights by explicitly stating that the police officers that violate these rights are not protected from civil liability.

The act was originally introduced in June 2020 Pressley and former Rep. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

A lot of things have happened between cops and civilians since June 2020, and America has been watching.

There were the dozens of police officers who ran into a Nashville school last month, many taking fire, as a shooter killed six, including three children, before being fatally wounded.

Then there were the five Memphis officers who were charged with the brutal beating and death of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop in January.

There have been other incidents around the country, of bravery and brutality. What’s needed is a way to weed out the bad apples. What’s needed is an end to qualified immunity.

“For too long qualified immunity has impeded legal recourse and blocked meaningful accountability,” Pressley said Wednesday. “It makes no sense that the very people responsible for enforcing the law face no consequences for breaking.”

The qualified immunity doctrine, which the Supreme Court passed in 1967, disallows police officers from being out on trial for unlawful conduct, including the use of excessive or deadly force, unless the person suing proves both that the conduct was unlawful, and the officers knew they were violating “clearly established” law.

But the doctrine contradicts the Ku Klux Klan Act, enacted by Congress in 1871, which was passed to allow lawsuits against state and local authorities who refused to protect African Americans from or participated in lynchings and other acts of racial violence.

“This is a law by the courts, just out of thin air, and it has impacted families,” Pressley said. “They have been blocked from justice, they have been blocked and denied accountability, and so now we need to block qualified immunity and in this unjust doctrine that has been codified and strengthened court case after court case.”

When Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, Markey said, they did not intend to have police officers shielded from lawsuits brought by the victims of police brutality and excessive force.

Supporters of the doctrine say officers should not have to fear lawsuits for doing their jobs.

Good cops, the kind who run into a school under fire to rescue children, wouldn’t have to fear doing their jobs. It’s the other ones, those who abuse their authority, who should worry.

The majority of officers who do their communities proud by keeping them safe can only benefit by ending immunity for those who defile the badge.