IJ Continues to Urge Supreme Court: Hold Government Officials Accountable for Violating Constitutional Rights

“This is ironic,” said IJ Attorney Keith Neely. “Historically, damages have been the go-to remedy for government’s violations of your rights. After all, it is much less intrusive for the courts to order a monetary redress than for the law to change or for the government activity to be halted altogether.”

The trial court agreed and dismissed the case, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed[2], holding that “appropriate relief” includes damages against government officials who violate individual rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court initially agreed to hear the case in March, but the Court delayed the argument to October in light of COVID-19.

The technical question in the case is whether an individual whose religious rights have been violated can recover damages from the government officials who violated those rights. But the broader issue is whether government officials can be held accountable at all.

Cases like this one are common, but few litigants have the opportunity to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. In June, the Supreme Court declined to hear about a dozen cases presenting questions involving government accountability, prompting Justice Clarence Thomas to write a dissent questioning the validity[3] of one of the legal doctrines currently used to shield government officials: qualified immunity.

To ensure that government officials are held accountable to the Constitution and other laws, the Institute for Justice filed an amicus brief[4] in this case, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to allow damages and explaining the historic role damages play in our constitutional system.

IJ’s involvement is part of its broader Project on Immunity and Accountability, which seeks to make constitutional rights enforceable against the government officials who violate them. As part of that project, IJ has brought suit or filed amicus briefs on behalf of numerous victims of government overreach, including an Idaho woman[5] and a Colorado family[6] whose homes were destroyed by the police, and an unarmed 15-year-old Mexican teenager[7] who was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent across the border.

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