“Qualified immunity” is a legal shield the U.S. Supreme Court created that protects all government officials (not just police officers) from being sued for violating the Constitution. Officials can only be held liable if they violated a “clearly established” constitutional right, which usually requires finding an almost identical case as precedent. Although only the Supreme Court and Congress can end qualified immunity nationwide, cities and states can pass laws that let individuals sue government officials and prohibit qualified immunity as a defense.
For more information, visit IJ’s Frequently Asked Questions about Ending Qualified Immunity as well as IJ’s Model State Legislation and Model City Ordinance.
State Bans on Qualified Immunity
Today, four states—Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico—have completely banned police officers from using qualified immunity as a defense in state court.
New State Limits on Police Immunity Since 2020
After the murder of George Floyd, six states, plus New York City, have either limited or banned legal immunity for police officers facing civil rights lawsuits. That includes, but is not limited to, qualified immunity.