Three senators proposed a bill Wednesday to end qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that critics say is shielding law enforcement and government officials from accountability.
The legislation, proposed by Democratic Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, codifies that qualified immunity — a creation of the Supreme Court nearly 40 years ago — cannot be used as a defense by police officers and other public officials who violate the law.
Though the Supreme Court could still announce that it will take a closer look at qualified immunity at some point, the court has decisively signaled an unwillingness in the short term to overturn its previous rulings, punting the issue to Congress.
In recent years, legal scholars, judges and justices on all sides of the ideological spectrum have criticized the legal doctrine, arguing that it is not grounded in the proper legal authorities and too often shields officials from accountability. It has divided lawmakers, however, finding broad support across the Democratic caucus and resistance within the GOP.
Attention on the issue comes as protesters across the country have been reacting to the death this spring of a Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a White police officer in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death has sparked nationwide protests pushing for more police accountability and reform.