Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say. 

The details: The federal George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, sponsored by Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), seeks to limit the use of qualified immunity in cases involving police and constitutional rights violations.

  • A proposal in New Mexico seeks to eliminate qualified immunity for police officers accused of violating someone's constitutional rights.
  • A Texas bill would create a process to sue police officers in state court for using excessive force without the possibility of qualified immunity as a defense.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court revived a civil rights lawsuit filed by a convicted murderer in Texas against a prison guard accused of using pepper spray against him in an unprovoked attack, Reuters reported. Legal scholars say this was a case that could dent qualified immunity.

The intrigue: Proposals aimed at tackling qualified immunity are part of larger overhauls of policing that also seek to ban chokeholds, build a registry of troubled officers and make it easier to pursue criminal charges against police.

What they're saying: "I think what has happened is that, in so many instances, we've taken 'qualified' and substituted 'absolute.' It's not absolute. So why is it being enforced as absolute immunity?" Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told Axios.

  • Clyburn said there should be cases where officers face legal liability for violating the rights of citizens, rather than just putting their departments on the hook for damages.
  • "We believe that nobody should be above the law, and nobody should be protected by belonging to an institution. You're responsible for your actions," said Fernando García, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
  • García said qualified immunity protections should also be abolished for federal agents like the Border Patrol.

Yes, but: Police unions and law enforcement leaders say attacks on qualified immunity are unfair since it mainly protects officials who lawfully use force in the line of duty.

  • "These so-called police reforms create a chilling effect for the entire law enforcement community. That effect, in turn, results in a less safe society as a whole,” Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III of Albuquerque, N.M. told Axios.
  • They say reforms like eliminating qualified immunity could discourage people from going into law enforcement and force some to retire early over fears of being sued.
  • The Police Executive Research Forum, an organization of police executives, said an officer shortage is hitting departments across the country.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of full-time sworn officers in U.S. law enforcement agencies declined by more than 3 percent between 2013 and 2016.

The other side: Michael E. Grady, a civil rights advocate in El Paso, Texas, said anyone who is worried about getting sued for excessive force shouldn't be in law enforcement anyway.

  • "If you don't want to be held accountable, it's not a good fit. We'll get someone else."

Don't forget: Cities, counties, and states have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in civil legal damages to settle alleged cases of police excessive force, even as officers escape criminal charges.

  • The city of Albuquerque, for example, has paid $64 million in settlements over the last 10 years in connection with 42 police shootings.
  • Albuquerque police are under a Department of Justice consent decree over excessive force. An independent police monitor said in November that despite the changes required by the consent decree, Albuquerque police have “failed miserably in its ability to police itself.”

Go deeper

Minneapolis on edge ahead of Derek Chauvin trial

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Anik Rahman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin over the killing of George Floyd is set to begin in just one week, and tension is palpable in many parts of the city.

What's happening: Barbed-wire fences, concrete barriers and plywood are fortifying city buildings and private towers downtown, as officials prepare for the possibility of large crowds and civil unrest.

First "Bloody Sunday" anniversary without John Lewis

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who died in 2020, stands on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in between television interviews on Feb. 14, 2015. PHOTO: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Civil rights advocates are preparing to mark the first anniversary of Selma's "Bloody Sunday" without the late Rep. John Lewis, and as the first anniversary of George Floyd's death approaches. 

Why it matters: A three-day virtual event seeks to acknowledge aging civil rights activists who pushed the nation to expand voting rights in 1965. It also comes as a new generation of advocates fights against voter suppression proposals and pushes police reforms.

Mar 2, 2021 - Science

Dem Armed Services chairs support Space Force after Biden backing

Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The Democratic chairs of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are in support of the U.S. Space Force, firmly signaling that the newest branch of the military — championed by former President Trump — will continue under President Biden.

Why it matters: It would take an act of Congress to dissolve the Space Force as a separate service branch, and while Democrats were widely critical of its creation, the political tide now appears to have turned in favor of the force.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!