Most people believe that if someone violates their constitutional rights, they have a right to sue.
But that’s often not true. If the person they’re looking to sue is a public official, particularly a public safety official, it could be nearly impossible to get a day in court. That’s because qualified immunity, a doctrine created by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s and emboldened in the 1980s, makes most government workers largely immune to civil lawsuits.
USA TODAY Opinion is exploring the issue of qualified immunity and the need for reform on a national scale. The ongoing series will include personal stories from victims and their families, views from police departments and officers accused of abuse, and perspectives from criminal justice experts to explain the issues around qualified immunity.
The project was made possible in part by a grant from Stand Together, which does not provide editorial input.
The voices of people affected
By Lynette Christmas
Valentine’s Day 2016 wasn’t spent celebrating love and romance. Instead, it was the day deputy Thomas Carl Pierson, of Georgia’s Harris County Sheriff’s Office, grossly violated my constitutional rights.
Feb. 14, 2016, was the day Pierson sexually assaulted me.
More from those denied a day in court
Columns that examine the issue
By Daniel Blomberg
College officials have been put on notice: targeting religious student groups isn’t just unconstitutional, it’s costly. A federal court of appeals agreed with my firm, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, that University of Iowa officials “turned a blind eye to decades of First Amendment jurisprudence” by punishing Christian, Muslim, and Sikh groups for the crime of asking their leaders to agree with their faith.
More from experts
- Qualified immunity: 8 myths about why police need it to protect the public
- Administrators who violate the 1st Amendment rights do not deserve protection of qualified immunity
- When police are out of line, they should face remedial action. But don’t end qualified immunity
Editorials that push for change
Police reforms in Congress are at an impasse, and even if they are revived, none addresses this important issue. It’s now up to the Supreme Court to protect Americans from police who violate their rights.
The justices need to send a clear message: There’s no place in the United States for a Constitution-free zone.
More from USA TODAY’s Editorial Board
Engage with the project
More about the project
This series is meant to educate the public about the issue of qualified immunity. It is supported in part by a grant from Stand Together, a nonprofit organization that supports projects that address major civic and social issues including criminal justice, education, poverty, and immigration.