Coalition of Civil Rights Organizations Call on New York Lawmakers to Pass Bill Allowing Victims of Constitutional Violations to Sue

Dan King
Dan King · May 30, 2023

BUFFALO, N.Y.—Today, a group of civil rights organizations called on New York lawmakers to pass a bill which would create a civil action for New Yorkers who have their civil rights violated by government employees. During a community event in Buffalo, where the coalition repaired dozens of brake lights, distributed over 200 bags of groceries and collected nearly 100 signed letters to state legislators, members of the Coalition to End Qualified Immunity urged lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 182/Assembly Bill 710, which would remove qualified immunity as a defense for government employees accused of violating people’s constitutional rights. 

“For far too long, qualified immunity has prevented New Yorkers from holding government officials accountable when their constitutional rights are violated,” said Ellen Hamlett of Americans Against Qualified Immunity. “Nobody should be above the law, especially not those tasked with upholding and defending it.” 

Qualified immunity is a judicial doctrine created by the Supreme Court in 1982, which shields government officials who violate someone’s constitutional rights from being held accountable in civil court unless the victim can prove that right is “clearly established” by pointing to a previous case with identical facts.   

“Looking at situations like my brother Jacob Blake, you see how quickly police misconduct and abuse can escalate,” said Pauly Jackson of Team Edifye, a nonprofit that connects athletes to local movement work after the NBA and WNBA went on strike to protest the 2020 police shooting of Blake. “When we think about what my family has endured, or what Tyre Nichols’ family has been through, we need to build systems of power that prevent these tragedies before the court doctrines and immunity factors come into play.”  

Both Senate Bill 182 and Assembly Bill 710 are currently in committee. If passed, the legislation would create a way for New Yorkers to sue government employees who violate their rights under either the United States or New York Constitution. 

“This legislation would remove one of the largest barriers to justice, transparency, and accountability in cases where the state officials have violated the rights of New Yorkers. There is no safety without trust, no trust without accountability, and no accountability without an end to qualified immunity,” said Darlene McDay of EndQINY. 

Americans Against Qualified Immunity, Voice Buffalo, EndQINY, and other organizations teamed up with Team Edifye this weekend to hold a community event in Buffalo, educating the public on the need to end qualified immunity in New York.