Justin Amash Prepares Bill That Would End Police Immunity From Civil Lawsuits

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) holds a Town Hall Meeting on May 28, 2019 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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In a letter sent to his House colleagues on Sunday, Michigan Rep. Justin Amash asked them to support his “Ending Qualified Immunity Act.” The call comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died while being apprehended by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers.

As reported by WKZO, the bill Amash is preparing would end the qualified immunity doctrine that has protected police from civil lawsuits that would require them to pay settlements to victims or their grieving families.

“The brutal killing of George Floyd is merely the latest in a long line of incidents of egregious police misconduct,” Amash wrote in the letter. “This pattern continues because police are legally, politically and culturally insulated… That must change so that these incidents stop happening.”

According to WKZO, an aide of Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar claims the congresswoman, who lives in Minneapolis, will be supporting the bill, which will allegedly be introduced on Thursday.

As Amash noted in his letter, the Civil Rights Act of 1871 gave individuals the right to sue local and state officials that violate their rights. But in 1967, the Supreme Court created the qualified immunity doctrine to roll back these rights. The Libertarian congressman said that the doctrine prevents police from being held liable — unless the individual whose rights they violated can prove there is a previous case that both mirrors the current one and was ruled by the court as a constitutional violation.

“This rule has sharply narrowed the situations in which police can be held liable — even for truly heinous rights violations — and it creates a disincentive to bringing cases in the first place.”

Amash said that if a plaintiff cannot find a prior case that matches theirs, they will likely forgo a lawsuit due to their low likelihood of winning. Even if the plaintiff does decide to file suit, Amash claims judges can use qualified immunity to dismiss the case and avoid ruling whether the public official violated the plaintiff’s rights.

An investigation by Reuters found that since 2005, the federal appeals courts — which follows the lead of the Supreme Court — have been increasingly granting police immunity in cases of excessive force. As the publication notes, district courts below the federal appeals courts must follow these rulings.

Amash’s push to end qualified immunity comes after Chauvin, who is facing third-degree murder and manslaughter charges, caught on video placing his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes during the arrest, despite the man’s pleas for help. An autopsy of Floyd’s body from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office claimed that he died of underlying health issues. But an independent autopsy by Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Allecia Wilson subsequently found that the cause of death was asphyxiation due to the compression of Floyd’s neck and back, which cut blood flow to his brain.