IJ Joins with Scholars to Expose how Police Are “Shielded” from Accountability 

May 19, 2023

 IJ’s Project on Immunity and Accountability began in a conference room across the street from our headquarters. It was a crisp, sunny morning in October 2018, and the brightest minds in the qualified immunity space gathered there to discuss with our world-class litigators how IJ could take on immunity doctrines that have no constitutional grounding.  

Among those brightest minds was UCLA’s Joanna Schwartz. Professor Schwartz’s work was unique, as she was the only scholar who did field research by calling up police departments and private practitioners and asking them about the effects that qualified immunity had on their operations. 

Recently, IJ got together with Professor Schwartz again, this time in Georgetown, to discuss the findings of her latest scholarship, our mission’s progress, and legal setbacks. 

Professor Schwartz’s scholarship started by taking the U.S. Supreme Court at its word: It created qualified immunity because it was worried about government officials going bankrupt and the overall cost of litigation. Her research—published in a new book, Shielded: How the Police Became Untouchable—found that neither one was an issue. Government officials are invariably indemnified. And qualified immunity increases the costs of litigation by creating extra levels of appellate review. 

It was an all-day affair, with a Short Circuit recording featuring Professor Schwartz and other renowned qualified immunity scholars, a panel of frontline civil rights attorneys, and a panel of people affected by qualified immunity, including IJ clients. 

The main takeaway was optimism. Even if the U.S. Supreme Court is turning away cases on this issue, we’ve made great progress in state supreme courts and federal courts of appeals. As in every area where we seek to change the world, we have our work cut out for us. But if it weren’t difficult, there would be no reason for IJ to be involved.

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