IJ’s work to increase government accountability has seen progress on the legislative front over the past year. One highlight has been in New Mexico, where lawmakers enacted landmark legislation ending qualified immunity and allowing individuals in that state to hold state government agencies and officials accountable in state court when their constitutional rights have been violated.
Qualified immunity, a court-created doctrine that effectively prohibits ordinary Americans from bringing lawsuits against government officers for constitutional rights violations, has stark real-world consequences. It does nothing to protect officers who make split-second decisions or other hard calls in the field—other legal and constitutional provisions do that. What qualified immunity does do is shield government workers from accountability for conduct that is objectively unreasonable or even horrific. Though qualified immunity is still viable in federal court—only Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court can fully end the doctrine nationwide—New Mexico shows how much a state can do to protect the rights of its residents.
Now the gold standard in the ongoing fight to end qualified immunity nationwide, New Mexico’s reform was months in the making. This past November, the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission released a groundbreaking report—produced with IJ’s input—recommending that the state adopt legislation designed to end qualified immunity. The draft legislation closely mirrored the model legislation that IJ submitted to the committee, titled the Protecting Everyone’s Constitutional Rights Act. IJ worked alongside a broad bipartisan coalition in support of the bill, including the Innocence Project, the ACLU, and Americans for Prosperity. The legislation was signed into law in April.
IJ also introduced a version of PECRA in New Hampshire earlier this year, and we are working with council members in the District of Columbia to introduce municipal legislation. As the D.C. Police Reform Commission put it in May, “IJ has been on the front line of this issue across the country.”