New York Congresswoman Thinks It's Too Hard To Be A Good Cop, Offers Up Bill That Would Codify Qualified Immunity
from the soon-to-be-perennial-bad-ida dept
Last summer, following the George Floyd killing, members of Congress introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. Among other reforms, the bill (since renamed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act) attempted to bring an end to qualified immunity, the Supreme Court-created legal doctrine that allows officers to escape civil rights lawsuits if the court decides no existing precedent would have put them on notice that the violation of rights they committed was actually a violation of rights.
This doctrine has made it extremely easy for officers to escape accountability for their actions. If there’s no case pretty much on point, the cop walks. While the Supreme Court has recently reconsidered its demands for cases on point, the prevailing rule pretty much still stands: as long as rights are violated in new ways, the rights violation must be suffered by the victim with no hope of compensation. In most cases, this also means the courts never get around to deciding this new violation of rights is a rights violation, so officers remain free to pretend they don’t know any better.
It’s a terrible system and it needs to be changed. Legislation could do it. This legislation apparently can’t, though. After being passed by the House on June 25th of last year, it went to the Senate to die. The bill has not moved forward since being placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar more than a year ago.
Some Congressional reps, however, think qualified immunity is a good thing. They believe police officers just don’t have enough protections, even with their unions, large number of powerful political backers, their own set of rights, and the ability to just walk away from the job rather than be punished for their misconduct.
Representative Claudia Tenney (New York) is one of those people. Despite facing no serious threat to the doctrine of qualified immunity, Tenney is seeking to have the Supreme Court’s doctrine codified into law, preventing the court from walking it back at a future date. It also would punish any local governments that fail to “respect” law enforcement with the same fervor Tenney does.
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-22) today unveiled details of her legislation, the Local Law Enforcement Protection Act, that protects qualified immunity for police officers serving at the state and local level.
Tenney’s bill would prevent state and local governments that remove qualified immunity protections for police from applying for certain federal grants.
Still not sold? Here’s more from Tenney, who appears ready to elevate each and every law enforcement officer into sainthood.
“Our Law Enforcement Officers put their lives on the line every day at great personal risk. In the last year alone, police have faced unprecedented challenges like the pandemic and increasing crime. Accountability and transparency are vital, but removing qualified immunity achieves neither. It opens police officers to unfair and frivolous attacks simply for doing their jobs. At a time when activists and politicians in Washington are demonizing and defunding our police, I’m honored to stand with them to deliver the resources and support to keep our communities safe,” said Congresswoman Tenney.
One can almost imagine the red, white, but mostly blue flag flying behind her as Tenney boldly stands up for people with an immense amount of power that have, for years, barely been reined in by almost nonexistent accountability. No one’s saying law enforcement isn’t a difficult job. We just want law enforcement officers to do this job better and be accountable for their actions when they do it wrong. A litigation ejection seat only government employees can use hasn’t done anything for accountability or transparency, so if these concepts are actually important to Rep. Tenney, maybe it’s time to strip away the barrier to accountability erected by the Supreme Court.
But there’s more. Tenney also drops this truth bomb:
The past two years have marked the deadliest period for law enforcement in decades. In 2020 alone, 264 police officers died in the line of duty. So far this year, at least 148 officers have tragically died.
What’s deliberately left unsaid here is that the past two years were the deadliest period for pretty much all of humanity in decades. Law enforcement couldn’t escape COVID either. Here’s what’s left out of this selective statement:
Of the 264 officers who have died in the line of duty, there were 145 confirmed Covid-19 cases.
COVID-related deaths are 55% of that total. Tenney’s effort to spin a narrative that it’s more dangerous out there for cops than it’s been in decades also ignores this factoid:
Forty-eight officers were shot and killed during the year compared to 51 during the same period in 2019, resulting in a 6% decrease.
It’s not getting worse, in terms of the normal dangers of the job. It’s still about the same as it’s been for several years, which have seen historic lows in both the killing of officers by suspected criminals and crime rates in general. To read this in the context of Tenney’s heated comments, it would appear officers actually need a little less protection than they’ve needed historically. Why not start with the end of qualified immunity?
As is to be expected, a long line of law enforcement officials have offered their support for the bill, which directly caters to their interests. That’s a natural reaction, albeit one that does nothing to bridge the gap between them and the people they’re supposed to be serving. Rep. Tenney would prefer to serve the interests of other government employees, and that’s not going to bridge any gaps either. This redundant bill is a yet-to-be-drafted sermon that aims to only engage with the already-converted. Hopefully, it will be ignored in the order it is received.
UPDATE: via Techdirt reader Thad comes this correction. The bill is alive but it in its original form, originating in the House this time:
HR7120 hasn’t been sitting on the Senate calendar since June 2020; it sat on the Senate calendar from June 2020 until it died in January 2021.
However, the House passed a new version of the bill, HR1280. And it’s been sitting on the Senate calendar since March.