Fitzpatrick Floor Remarks on Police Reform and Qualified Immunity
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Yesterday, July 1st, 2020, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on police reform and qualified immunity.
“Madame Speaker, I rise today to talk about the important topic of police reform and qualified immunity.
Last week, I joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in voting in favor of the Justice in Policing Act--a bill that the National Fraternal Order of Police “believe, after good faith discussions, will create a law that will have a positive impact on law enforcement and policing in our country.” My Republican colleagues who voted in favor did so because we must move the legislative process and negotiations forward so we can begin to repair the social contract between police officers and the communities that they serve.
That being said, we believe that the qualified immunity provision in the bill, as it is currently drafted, must be fixed so that we ensure that we protect our hero police officers from physical harm and potentially frivolous lawsuits.
Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that grants government officials who are performing discretionary functions immunity from civil suits, unless the plaintiff shows that the official violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights that a reasonable person would have been aware of. To put it simply, qualified immunity states that if an officer acts in good faith and is doing what he or she believes is in line with their responsibilities of being a police officer, then they are protected from personal liability.
While I believe that qualified immunity is a very important doctrine, it can be reformed, but NOT abolished. There must be reforms that address personal responsibility, accountability, and transparency in law enforcement, no doubt. However, the Justice in Policing Act includes a provision on qualified immunity that must be amended in conference committee prior to final passage. I, for one, will be insisting on that prior to any bill being sent to the President’s desk.
As it currently stands, this provision would specify that a defendant is not immune from lawsuits just because they were acting in a way they thought was reasonable or lawful at the time or because they were not violating a clearly established law.
The overwhelming majority of our police officers conduct themselves responsibly, appropriately, and within the confines of the law. We must reform qualified immunity to allow our police officers to act in a way they need to perform their jobs, while also removing protections that shield those who illegally deny citizens of the rights given to them by the Constitution.
Having served as a lifelong federal law enforcement agent and federal prosecutor, I will be playing an active role in bridging this gap, as will my Republican colleagues who voted in favor, as we move to conference committee. And I will insist that the final package be written in a way that both protects citizens’ constitutional and civil rights and preserves the noble profession of law enforcement, the profession that I have dedicated the majority of my adult life to, the profession that my great uncle Phil sacrificed his life and paid the ultimate price for, having been killed in the line of duty as an NYPD officer.
Mr./Mdm. Speaker, this moment calls on all of us to come together and repair this social contract so that we as Americans can start to heal. I firmly believe that we are all capable of rising to this challenge because my own community in Bucks and Montgomery Counties has been a model when it comes to police-community relations.
We need to apply the community model of my amazing colleagues back home, always making improvements based on self-reflection, listening, understanding and learning, and show the rest of our country and the world that we are a country of law and order, a country that respects the rights, dignity, and equality of every individual, a country where police officers are one with the communities in which they serve.
We have a real chance at positive change, let’s not miss the moment.”
To be clear, the quote mentioned above is not meant to imply that the National Fraternal Order of Police has taken any position with regards to Senator Tim Scott’s legislation (JUSTICE Act) or Congresswoman Karen Bass’ legislation (the Justice in Policing Act). The FOP has not taken a formal position on either bill.