In the wake of the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, US Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Justin Amash announced Thursday they have introduced a bill that would end the principle of qualified immunity, in which police officers and other public officials are shielded from lawsuits in the course of doing their jobs.
The legislation, called the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, would explicitly state that police officers who engage in civil rights violations are not exempt from liability. The idea of qualified immunity is not a law that can be repealed but rather a legal doctrine developed by decades of court cases that holds police officers and other public officials immune from civil lawsuits unless they violate a “clearly established” law or constitutional right.
“Qualified immunity shields police from accountability, impedes true justice, and undermines the constitutional rights of every person in this country,” Pressley said in a statement. “There can be no justice without healing and accountability, and there can be no true accountability with qualified immunity. It’s past time to end qualified immunity, and that’s exactly what this bill does.”
The bill is being co-sponsored by a number of Democrats, including Massachusetts Representatives Jim McGovern and Joseph P. Kennedy III.
Pressley’s House bill comes as demonstrations continue daily in cities across the country, including in and around Boston, calling for an end to racism and police brutality.
House Democrats say they are in the process of shaping a package of police reform legislation to respond to the calls for policy action. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC host Joe Scarborough Wednesday that Democrats plan to be “intense” and “proactive” about bringing legislation to the floor, including on the issue of qualified immunity.
“Hopefully as part of a comprehensive package, we can get that done,” Pelosi said.
The legislation introduced by Pressley and Amash, a former Michigan Republican who is now a member of the Libertarian party, also comes on the heels of action in the Republican-controlled Senate, with Senator Ed Markey announcing Wednesday that he had co-sponsored a resolution condemning qualified immunity and planned to introduce legislation on the subject.
Pressley has been vocal in calling for reforms in the wake of the Floyd killing, joining state leaders of color for a press conference demanding action on Tuesday, and introducing a resolution in the House last week to condemn police brutality.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the circumstances under which police can be shielded from liability for their actions in the course of doing their jobs. Under qualified immunity, police can still be shielded from liability if they have broken the law.