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42 U.S. Code § 1983 is one of our nation’s most important civil rights statutes and it offers plaintiffs a way to seek damages against state officials in federal courts. But in Pierson v. Ray, the Supreme Court created a defense under Section 1983 for public officials, called qualified immunity, even if they do in fact violate people’s rights. In dissent, Justice Douglas called the doctrine “a more sophisticated manner of saying ‘The King can do no wrong.’” He was talking about immunity for judges, but his dissent was prescient when it comes to how qualified immunity prevents us from holding police officers accountable today.
In this episode, the ladies take listeners through the long, twisted journey of qualified immunity. Over the years it would turn out Justice Douglas was right…. just about the wrong thing.
Special thanks to guests Joanna Schwartz and Clark Neily.
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