FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: CONTACT: The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights: Cristóbal Joshua Alex (212.244.4664; 206.427.3679); Seth Galanter (202.887.6947)
The Supreme Court of the United States today overruled an important principle that played a critical role in clarifying government obligations and constitutional rights.
In Pearson v. Callahan, the Supreme Court overruled a principle established by Saucier v. Katz, which required courts to decide whether a government official violated the Constitution before deciding whether the government official was on notice that his conduct violated the Constitution. By overruling Saucier, courts will now be able to avoid determining whether a government actor’s conduct violated the Constitution. The Saucier rule helped to make sure that government actors are accountable for their actions.
“It is a sad day for justice that Saucier was overruled,” said Cristóbal Joshua Alex, Director of the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “Government officials will now be permitted multiple bites of constitutionally forbidden fruit with little judicial oversight.” Alex continued, “The mandatory nature of Saucier ensured that the law would not remain unclear forever. The Court has now taken away even that very basic protection.”
In their brief, the NCRCR provides the example of James F. Robinson, an African-American retired city worker, who sued police officers for using excessive force when the officers, from point blank range, aimed their guns at the his head even though he was plainly unarmed. A federal court found his rights had been violated, but determined that the police officers would not have known that such conduct was unconstitutional at the time. But this put police on notice that they could not do that anymore, and later victims of the same unconstitutional practice were able to sue and win.
Seth Galanter, lead counsel for Morrison Foerster LLP who authored the brief, emphasized that, “Victims of civil rights violations at the hands of government officials frequently do not have their day in court because judges dismiss their claims because they find that an officer shouldn’t be expected to know that his conduct violated the Constitution.” Galanter continued, “Now that the Court has overruled Saucier, it will become even more difficult for victims to obtain relief despite having suffered a violation of their constitutional rights.”
The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights’ Amicus Brief can be read at the Campaign's website .