Republican Senator Introduces Legislation to Limit Qualified Immunity for Police

June 23, 2020 Updated: June 23, 2020

Breaking from his Republican Colleagues, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) is introducing a bill on Tuesday to limit qualified immunity for police.

Braun’s legislation, the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act (RQI Act), would strip some of the current standards that shield police officers from civil lawsuits so they can be held accountable when they violate rights that are “clearly established” in light of existing case law.

Under the RQI Act, a police officer would be eligible for qualified immunity if the conduct in question “had previously been authorized or required by federal or state statute or regulation” or if a court has found it is “consistent with the Constitution and federal laws.”

“To claim qualified immunity under the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act, a government employee such as a police officer would have to prove that there was a statute or court case in the relevant jurisdiction showing his or her conduct was authorized: a meaningful change that will help law enforcement and the citizens they protect,” said Braun.

Braun says this bill would protect those officers that act in accordance with the law, “while removing misguided protection that has been extended to those who act under the color of the law to illegally deprive citizens of the rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the Constitution and our country’s laws,” Braun’s statement read.

Similarly, the Democrats’ police reform bill (Justice in Policing Act), which is scheduled for vote next week, would overhaul qualified immunity by allowing individuals to receive damages in civil court “when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights,” according to a Judiciary Committee fact sheet (pdf).

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is one of the few Republicans who have indicated a willingness to revisit this doctrine. “Maybe there’s something we can do with the concept of qualified immunity that would put more accountability into the agencies that run police departments,” he suggested in a committee meeting.

At this point in time, with the exception of Braun and Graham no other Republicans have indicated a chance for compromise on this issue, so the two parties are split. Democrats say the GOP needs to address qualified immunity, which Sen. Tim Scott (R-N.C.) said his GOP colleagues generally view as a “poison pill.”

Many advocates for qualified immunity protection, say it allows officers to make life-or-death decisions in a matter of seconds, and without it, fewer people might be willing to join police forces.

Aside from Braun’s bill to limit qualified immunity, Democrats and Republicans are each saying that the other party needs to work with them on their party’s police reform bill.

“When we drafted the #JUSTICEAct, we included several bipartisan proposals. If there are more ideas, Senate rules provide for debate and amendments. The first step in making a law is to move forward with debate. If Democrats can’t do that, they’re just trying to make a point, not a law,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).

The Democrats’ The Justice in Policing Act is being dismissed as too extreme by Republicans and likewise, the Senate is voting Wednesday on the JUSTICE Act which Senate Democrats have indicated they will oppose.

“We will not meet this moment by holding a floor vote on the JUSTICE Act, nor can we simply amend this bill, which is so threadbare and lacking in substance that it does not even provide a proper baseline for negotiations. This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point,” wrote Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in a letter to McConnell.

Police reform issues like qualified immunity may lead to a standoff between the two parties unless many more GOP lawmakers join Braun.