A Thoughtful Look Into Things
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Resolved: The United States ought to limit qualified immunity for police officers.
The train of garbage resolutions continues. Not only is this topic mired in long and complicated legal doctrines, its lack of specificity also makes for a terrible debate. This could have been phrased much more appropriately as something like, “When in conflict, an individual’s constitutional rights ought to take priority over effective law enforcement.” This resolution does a miserable job of posing what is an otherwise interesting and politically relevant question. Instead, now we’re going to be forced to sit through hours of nonsensical debate about what the word “limit” means. Jeebus! I’m thinking of retiring if they keep this up. For now, though, we have to go through the crap we have to go through I suppose.
Qualified Immunity – Qualified immunity protects law enforcement from liability for damages caused. To put it in simple terms, if a police officer destroys stuff or hurts people in the line of duty, he/she isn’t liable for those damages unless clearly established rights that the officer would have reasonably known about were violated. Here’s a good link with the legal background on it. http://www.lectlaw.com/def2/q063.htm
Limit – I can’t even begin to define this. Qualified immunity is already limited to not apply in cases where clearly established rights, which a reasonable person would be aware of, have been violated. How much more could it be limited? Do we put a monetary cap on the damages? Do we limit it to cases where unclear rights have been violated? Not to mention, it’s also only a defense against being sued. If the case goes to court, it doesn’t apply anyway. The way I see it, there are two ways to approach this definition to avoid a terrible debate.
- The first is to take a theoretical approach and just say the means of limitation are irrelevant. We have to rephrase the question to effectively say, “Is qualified immunity too loosely used?” That way, the moral question of law enforcement liability can be addressed while avoiding the quagmire of how to legislate it.
- The second is to say that limit means eliminate. This way the question also becomes much clearer and focuses on the moral legitimacy of qualified immunity.
Those seem like the two best options.
- Immunity Threatens Tyranny – Qualified immunity allows for a tyrannical and unaccountable police force. Effectively, it allows law enforcement to plead ignorance while obviously violating the rights of the citizens. This is dangerous and harmful.
- Security – Qualified immunity actually makes society less safe because it allows law enforcement to operate at a much less stringent standard. Because the shield of immunity exists, it encourages officers to take more risks, leading to decreased security.
- Immunity is Unconstitutional – This is a tough position to take, but it can be argued that immunity creates a class of citizens treated as ‘above the law.’ This effectively violated the constitutional doctrine of equality under the law because it affords privilege to certain people. Additionally, it codifies and excuses the violation of human rights, especially with the recent supreme court decision in Pearson v. Callahan which permits local courts to more easily dismiss claims brought against law enforcement.
- Rule of Law – Society breaks down without immunity. Law enforcement would be crippled in modern American society if immunity protection was limited. It would allow criminals to wreak havoc while law enforcement suffered the battles in court to protect themselves and justify their actions.
- Categorical Imperative – The question being asked is whether or not a person should be liable for damages caused in the course of performing their work. Taken to its universal moral conclusion, an affirmative answer creates a world in which law enforcement basically no longer exists. This is not a world we would want to live in.
- Security – Immunity allows police officers to do their jobs more effectively and creates a more secure society. As security is the primary purpose of law enforcement, it should be prioritized.
That’s it, hope that helps! Good luck!