Top House Republican revives bill aimed at protecting police during the 2020 BLM protests that failed under Democrat control: Rep. Jim Banks calls for cops to have ‘breathing room to make reasonable mistakes’
- Indiana Rep. Jim Banks reintroduced his Qualified Immunity Act on Tuesday
- Right now, qualified immunity relies on Supreme Court precedent
- It shields government workers such as police from most civil lawsuits
Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Banks introduced a bill on Tuesday to codify qualified immunity for police officers in the U.S. Constitution.
The former Republican Study Committee chairman first brought the bill to the House floor in August 2020, in response to nationwide unrest that summer as Black Lives Matter protesters and other activists clashed with police.
Banks’ bill, the Qualified Immunity Act, would codify existing Supreme Court precedent that shields police officers from civil lawsuits ‘from the same criminals they put behind bars,’ the congressman said in a statement.
The qualified immunity statute gives police and other government officials ‘breathing room to make reasonable mistakes,’ his legislation’s text states.
The legislation failed to come for a vote in the Democrat-controlled Congress led by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Banks introduced a bill aiming at codifying qualified immunity in the US Constitution
His previous effort to introduce the legislation was blocked from the House floor under Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership
Meanwhile, Democrats acted that year to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which among other reforms would have actually rolled back qualified immunity.
Banks’ bill has a far higher chance of passing the Republican-controlled House in the 118th Congress – but it would face an uphill battle in Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s chamber.
‘Indiana’s law enforcement officers risk their lives every day to keep our families and communities safe,’ Banks said in a statement.
‘Subjecting officers to frivolous, unending lawsuits from the same criminals they put behind bars would be a miscarriage of justice and bankrupt almost every police department in the country.’
The 2020 summer protests came in response to the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer.
The ensuing summer of protests were mostly peaceful but indelibly marked by images of vandalized public buildings, smashed store windows and burning police cars in areas where tensions erupted between cops and demonstrators.
The Minneapolis Third Police Precinct is set on fire on Thursday, May 28, 2020, during a third night of protests following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody
San Francisco police seen during a protest on May 31, 2020. ‘Law enforcement officers risk their lives every day to keep our families and communities safe,’ Banks said in a statement introducing his bill
Ending qualified immunity for police officers ended up being one of the more controversial reforms demanded by progressives – one that’s been fiercely lobbied against by right-wing groups and police unions.
Police reform activists argue that it gives law enforcement officers unfair protections that put them above the law.
But supporters of qualified immunity say it’s a necessary shield to allow representatives of the government to perform their work to their fullest ability.
‘The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials carrying out official acts from being sued unless the official violated a person’s statutory or constitutional rights,’ said Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes.
‘This is especially important to law enforcement officers, who need this protection in order to perform discretionary functions fundamental to law enforcement and public safety.’
The Supreme Court ruled that government employees were entitled to qualified immunity in 1982, and has upheld the precedent in several cases since.
The most recent came in October 2022, when the high court declined to take up a case challenging the qualified immunity defense of a Michigan police officer who shot someone driving away in a car.
Banks’ legislation would codify the qualified immunity doctrine in federal law, which would remove the onus of its existence off of the Supreme Court.