FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 13, 2008
CONTACT: The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights: Tanene Allison (212) 244-6446 or Cristóbal Joshua Alex (cell) (206) 427-3679
NEW YORK, NY- August 13th -
The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights (NCRCR) today filed an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court in Pearson v. Callahan, a case involving the warrantless search of a home. A key issue before the Court is whether to overrule a judicial doctrine that offers some hope that courthouse doors remain open for victims injured by repeated unconstitutional conduct. NCRCR argues that the case that established this doctrine, Saucier v. Katz, 522 U.S. 194 (2001), should not be overruled because doing so would limit the ability to hold government officials accountable for civil rights violations.
Saucier involves the application of the judge-made doctrine known as qualified immunity, which is a defense raised by government officials who have been sued for civil rights violations. Qualified immunity gives government officials the ability to violate the Constitution without having to compensate the people they injured so long as it was not "clearly established" by case law at the time of the injury that what they did was unconstitutional.
Under Saucier, before reaching the question whether the right at issue was "clearly established," courts first must determine whether a constitutional violation occurred. Deciding the questions in this order, rather than simply jumping to the question whether any violation was clearly established, is critically important because it creates the case law that will allow other victims of the same type of unconstitutional conduct to defeat qualified immunity if that conduct occurs again after the first lawsuit is decided.
"If Saucier was overruled, qualified immunity would not only continue to award government officials one free violation of the Constitution, but it also would pave the way for multiple bites of a constitutionally forbidden fruit," states Cristóbal Joshua Alex, Director of the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights.
Partnering with a high-level amicus committee and with the pro bono support of Morrison & Foerster LLP, the NCRCR contends:
- First, the Court should not further increase the individual and societal costs of the qualified immunity doctrine by removing one of the ways in which it prevents constitutional violations, which is by making clear what the Constitution prohibits, as mandated by Saucier, before deciding whether the officers do not have to be held accountable for the injuries they caused.
- >Second, that the qualified immunity doctrine is a judge-made doctrine that creates a huge remedies-gap, where people are injured by constitutional violations without being able to get remedies from the government officials who hurt them. Therefore, at the appropriate time, the Court should reassess the competing values underlying qualified immunity.
An example of the importance of the case now before the high court:
Robin Hill was arrested for public intoxication. Six officers forced the 110 pound woman to undress, marched her naked down a hallway, and strapped her to a restraining board "face-down, naked, and in a spread-eagle position" where they left her for three hours. The Eighth Circuit found that Hill's constitutional rights were violated, but that it was not "clearly established" that Hill could not be constitutionally restrained naked and thus Hill could recover nothing for her constitutional injuries. Hill v. McKinley, 311 F.3d 899 (8th Cir. 2002)
Alex continued, "the mandatory nature of Saucier ensures that, although there will be no remedies against officials who violate the constitutional rights of individuals where the law is unclear, the law will not remain unclear forever, such that government officials like those in Hill will be accountable."
Seth Galanter, lead counsel for Morrison & Foerster LLP emphasized that, "If the Supreme Court were to overrule Saucier, it would become even more difficult for people to get relief after they have been hurt by government violations of the Constitution. There is no reason to make things harder than they already are for these victims while letting the government official get away with violating the Constitution."
The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in Pearson v. Callahan on Tuesday, October 14th.
The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights' Amicus Brief can be read at www.rollbackcampaign.org .