Does qualified immunity actually accomplish what the Supreme Court intended? Kim Norberg and co-host Keith Neely discuss qualified immunity and how it plays out in the real world. IJ Senior Attorney Bob McNamara and data scientist Jason Tiezzi join to discuss Unaccountable, IJ’s new report that examines qualified immunity by the numbers.

The report uses the largest ever collection of federal appellate cases, covering the 11-year period from 2010 through 2020. It is also the first to use cutting-edge automated techniques to parse thousands of federal circuit court opinions and answer key questions about cases where government defendants claim qualified immunity—what kinds of officials and conduct it protects, its impact on civil rights cases, and whether the doctrine is achieving its aims.

Unaccountable

When people hear “qualified immunity,” they tend to think “police misconduct.” But IJ’s qualified immunity cases frequently involve other types of officials and allegations. Now a new IJ study of more than 5,500 federal qualified immunity appeals shows those cases aren’t outliers. Unaccountable finds only 23% of appeals involved police accused of excessive force. Police often claimed qualified immunity, of course, but so did social workers, college deans, mayors, and many other government officials. And the violations victims alleged were similarly diverse, with almost 20% of appeals featuring First Amendment claims, usually premeditated retaliation for disfavored speech or other protected activity. Unaccountable finds qualified immunity hobbles victims of government abuses like these and fails to accomplish the goals supporters claim it’s needed to achieve, strengthening the case for ending the doctrine.

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