Friday, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Cori Bush (MO-01) led a group of progressives in sending a letter to House and Senate leadership, urging them to maintain and strengthen the provision to eliminate qualified immunity as negotiations for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act continue.
“[W]e are concerned by recent discussions that the provision ending qualified immunity for local, state, and federal law enforcement may be removed in order to strike a bipartisan deal in the Senate,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “Given that police violence, as a weapon of structural racism, continues to have devastating and deadly consequences for Black and brown lives across our country, we strongly urge you to not only maintain but strengthen the provision eliminating qualified immunity as negotiations in the Senate continue. Congress has a historic opportunity to make substantial strides in affirming the rights of people in our country, particularly Black and brown people for whom encounters with law enforcement are routinely violent and deadly.”
One hundred and fifty years ago, Congress enacted Section 1983 to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment and ensure that individuals could go to court to redress constitutional violations committed by state and local governments and their agents. The modern Supreme Court has all but eliminated this vital civil rights tool by inventing the doctrine of qualified immunity, which in practice makes it nearly impossible for people to receive justice when harmed by governmental actors.
In March, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley reintroduced H.R. 1470, the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, which would eliminate this immunity for law enforcement and public officials and restore the ability for Americans to seek recourse for violations of their constitutionally protected rights. Consistent with the proposal outlined in Rep. Pressley’s bill, the members are urging that any legislation negotiated on policing reform eliminate qualified immunity in its totality and restore the original intent of section 1983.
“As negotiations continue, know this: there can be no true justice in America if we cannot save lives, just like there can be no true accountability in America if we do not eliminate qualified immunity,” the members continued. “Our nation is hurting. Our communities are hurting. Black and brown people who bear the brunt of police violence are hurting. Enacting the reforms included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is not only long-overdue, but a matter of responsible policymaking. It is essential to our work in preventing the onslaught of police violence that has robbed so many in our communities of their loved ones. Maintaining and strengthening the provision that would eliminate qualified immunity once and for all, would put us on a path towards true accountability and help end the systemic and systematic harm that has long been perpetuated by American policing.”
“We are committed to protecting the constitutional rights of people all across America, and that includes the right to live free of harm from systemic police violence. Foundational to our work to ensure that every community can thrive, is holding public officials, including law enforcement, accountable for systemic abuses on the American people. Our duty as lawmakers is to protect our communities, eliminating qualified immunity once and for all is one step toward making that possible. As such, we strongly urge the Senate to maintain and strengthen this provision as negotiations continue on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
The letter is co-signed by: Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Bonnie Watson Coleman(NJ-12), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07).
The letter is addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and is cc’d to Representative Karen Bass, Senator Cory Booker, and Senator Tim Scott.
The Ending Qualified Immunity Act was originally introduced in June 2020 by Congresswoman Pressley and Congressman Justin Amash (L-MI) following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. In August, Congresswoman Pressley and Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo authored an op-ed in the Boston Globe in which they called on state lawmakers to end the unjust court-invented doctrine of qualified immunity.