On the US Supreme Court ruling on Trump immunity and its impact on human rights

Torture

The US high court ruling on the presidential immunity is now being processed and spun as political matter. When partisan fervor settles down, people of all political backgrounds will realize that the ruling has far more serious consequences, especially on human rights issues. 

Those who dismiss the concerns of abuse of power, now made even more possible by this ruling, argue that even a pugnacious president who may want to do harm, will not be able to do so because they will not find someone to carry out their order or justify it legally. That is wishful thinking.

Most human rights scholars, with concern for vulnerable persons, have always thought of absolute and qualified immunity as shields that protect the powerful when they abuse their power. Now, these powerful persons will be able to do more harm knowing that there is a court precedent that will protect them. 

Those skeptical should only consider how violation of law cannot only happen, but lawyers will be able to argue, now successfully, that presidents can do whatever they want, including torturing children. Here is a flash back from before the US Supreme Court ruling for perspective: 


DOJ lawyer, John Yoo, Says President Bush Can Legally TortureChildren

  

Background: what are Absolute and Qualified Immunity

Within the legal system, a shield exists to protect certain government officials from lawsuits arising from their actions. This shield comes in two forms: absolute immunity and qualified immunity. While both offer protection, they differ significantly in scope and application. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for navigating the complexities of holding government actors accountable.

Absolute immunity grants complete protection from lawsuits, regardless of the official's conduct. It applies to a select group, primarily judges, legislators, and prosecutors, engaged in core governmental functions. The rationale behind absolute immunity is to ensure these officials can perform their duties freely, without fear of litigation hindering the judicial, legislative, or prosecutorial process. For instance, a judge should be able to issue rulings without worrying about lawsuits questioning the judgment.

 

On the other hand, qualified immunity offers a conditional shield. It protects government officials, most commonly law enforcement officers, from lawsuits for violating someone's rights, but only if their actions did not violate "clearly established law." Here, the key lies in the ambiguity of "clearly established law." Courts determine whether a right was clearly established by examining past court rulings on similar situations. If the law at the time of the incident was unclear on a specific issue, the official may be shielded from liability, even if their actions seem unreasonable in hindsight.

 

The distinction between these two immunities is crucial. Absolute immunity offers a nearly impenetrable barrier, effectively shutting down lawsuits altogether. Qualified immunity, however, allows lawsuits to proceed if the plaintiff can demonstrate that the official violated a clearly established right. This distinction reflects a balancing act between protecting officials from frivolous lawsuits and holding them accountable for misconduct.

The concept of qualified immunity has been a subject of intense debate. Critics argue that it creates a de facto shield for law enforcement, making it difficult to hold them accountable for rights violations. Proponents counter that qualified immunity is necessary to protect officers from being sued for making split-second decisions in difficult situations.

Absolute and qualified immunity serve distinct purposes within the legal system. Absolute immunity, now strengthened by Court ruling, can open the door for more abuse of power.


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