In the ongoing discourse about justice and accountability, the concept of qualified immunity has emerged as a topic of heated debate. Libertarians, staunch advocates of limited government and individual rights, are at the forefront of the movement to end qualified immunity. In last week’s Poll of the Week, we asked if qualified immunity should be eliminated and government employees be forced to carry liability insurance. Voters overwhelming agreed with this sentiment at a 97% rate. This post hopes to underscore the importance of dismantling qualified immunity for the sake of justice, individual rights, and equal treatment under the law.
Police Misconduct and Unjust Impunity
Perhaps the most visible and poignant example of the need to end qualified immunity comes from cases of police misconduct. Under this legal doctrine, police officers have often been shielded from personal liability even in cases of clear abuse of power, excessive force, or violations of individual rights. Libertarians argue that this immunity undermines the principles of accountability and equal treatment under the law.
Consider a scenario where a police officer uses excessive force during an arrest, causing severe injury or even death. One such case is Corbitt v. Vickers, where Coffee Co, GA deputy sheriff Matthew Vickers attempted to shoot the Corbitt’s family dog and instead shot their 10 year old son in the leg. Qualified immunity has frequently protected such officers from facing appropriate legal consequences, leaving victims and their families without recourse for justice. Libertarians contend that this practice perpetuates a culture of impunity and reinforces the idea that certain individuals are above the law, directly contradicting their core principle of equal treatment.
Government Officials and Overreach
Qualified immunity is not confined to law enforcement; it extends to all government officials. This broad application can lead to instances of government overreach and infringement on individual rights. Libertarians argue that this blanket protection encourages officials to act without due diligence, as they are less likely to be held personally liable for their actions.
Imagine a case where a teacher or school administrator uses excessive force against a student, especially one with special learning needs. This very thing happened in T.O. v. Fort Bend Independent School District. A teacher, Angela Abbot, threw the first grade T.O. to the ground, seizing his throat and choking him, after he had an episode consistent with his ADHD diagnosis, even though T.O.’s behavioral aid said all was under control. If these actions violate established legal boundaries, qualified immunity might shield the official from legal repercussions. Libertarians posit that such instances directly undermine the respect for individual rights and the principle that those in power should be held accountable for their actions.
Healthcare and Negligence
Even in the realm of healthcare, qualified immunity can have far-reaching consequences. Medical practitioners, when acting in their official capacities, have been granted protection that often goes beyond what is reasonable. While some level of protection is necessary to prevent frivolous lawsuits, the current state of qualified immunity can hinder genuine cases of negligence from receiving due compensation.
Suppose a medical professional acts negligently during a procedure, leading to severe harm or loss of life. If qualified immunity stands in the way of holding the practitioner accountable, it not only denies justice to the affected individuals but also fails to ensure that medical professionals remain committed to the highest standards of care. The State of Ohio did this during the Covid-19 emergency declarations with the passage of HB 606. Libertarians argue that accountability in the medical field is vital to maintaining the integrity of healthcare and protecting individual rights to life and well-being.
Embracing Accountability and Equal Treatment
From a libertarian standpoint, ending qualified immunity is a step toward achieving accountability, safeguarding individual rights, and upholding the principle of equal treatment under the law. The examples provided above illustrate the potential dangers of a legal doctrine that grants excessive protection to government officials, often at the expense of the very citizens they are meant to serve.
By advocating for the end of qualified immunity and having government officials carrying liability insurance, libertarians are championing a society where individuals are not above the law, where government officials are held accountable for their actions, and where the principles of justice and fairness prevail.