How the Supreme Court could change policing in an instant

Qualified immunity has got to go

The Supreme Court.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

If a genie of criminal justice reform, in a stingy variation on the standard package, offered a single wish for reforming policing in America, ending the doctrine of qualified immunity would be a very strong pick.

Established by the Supreme Court in 1967, qualified immunity protects police from liability for civil rights violations committed in their official capacity. The rule says prosecutable offenses must concern rights guarded by "clearly established law." In theory, this sounds straightforward — aren't all our constitutional rights enshrined in clearly established law? — but in practice, the standard is extremely difficult to satisfy because of the specificity required. As I wrote on the subject last year, any violation deemed novel cannot be sued over, and that lack of accountability is self-perpetuating, as barring the initial suit will in turn fail to set the precedent needed for future instances of the same type of violation. As a result, it's almost impossible for victims of police misconduct (or families of the deceased) to successfully sue for damages.

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Bonnie Kristian

Bonnie Kristian was a deputy editor and acting editor-in-chief of She is a columnist at Christianity Today and author of Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community (forthcoming 2022) and A Flexible Faith: Rethinking What It Means to Follow Jesus Today (2018). Her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, USA Today, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.