Demand Justice, Launching Push to End “Qualified Immunity,” Announces Bilingual Ads Praising Julián Castro as First 2020 Contender to Confront Issue

June 10, 2019

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Five-figure Digital Buy in Nevada and South Carolina to Highlight Castro’s Plan to Reform One of the Roberts Court’s Biggest Attacks on Civil Rights

Poll Shows 76% of Democratic Primary Voters Don’t Support Qualified Immunity Rulings

WASHINGTON, DC—Demand Justice announced Monday it is launching a new campaign to bring attention to a little-known set of rulings by the Supreme Court that has prevented victims of police brutality from seeking justice. As the first step in this new campaign, Demand Justice is launching a round of ads praising former Obama administration official Julián Castro for being the first 2020 candidate to unveil plans to confront the issue.

The Supreme Court doctrine at issue is known as “qualified immunity,” and it has led to the dismissal of civil rights lawsuits against police officers and other government officials.

Disturbingly, qualified immunity is not a part of any law passed by Congress nor is it mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. It was invented by the Supreme Court, and its application has expanded during John Roberts’ tenure as Chief Justice. Recent rulings on qualified immunity have encountered intense criticism, including from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who last year said “it tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

Qualified immunity is also at issue in another case that the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear. That case, involving the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy at the U.S.-Mexican border by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, will be heard next term.

“Qualified immunity may be the most outrageous invention of the Supreme Court that most voters have never heard of,” said Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon. “Under John Roberts, the Court is preventing victims of police brutality from getting access to justice. We believe if we can increase awareness of the Court’s role in shielding law enforcement from accountability, the public will be outraged by it. Julián Castro deserves tremendous credit for calling out this problem, and we want to pressure other 2020 candidates to address this issue as well. Democrats running for president should be united about the need to end qualified immunity as we know it.”

Qualified immunity has attracted concern from both the left and right. In recent years, groups as ideologically diverse as the Cato Institute and the ACLU have joined forces to mutually urge the Supreme Court to reconsider the doctrine.

But the issue has gained little notice from elected officials until now. This week, Castro became the first 2020 candidate to meaningfully address the issue when he called for reforming it as part of his newly released criminal justice reform plan.

A recent poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of Demand Justice found that when Democratic voters are asked about the Court’s rulings on qualified immunity, 76% oppose the decisions and only 11% support them.

The Demand Justice ads featuring Castro’s call to reform qualified immunity will run on Facebook in Nevada and South Carolina and appear in both English and Spanish. Examples of the ads appear below.

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