Yet another installment of gross favoritism by the SCOTUS to the government; but this time, we’re not the only ones noticing:
But what does a qualified-immunity summary reversal accomplish? It doesn’t develop or clarify the legal standard either for qualified immunity or for the substantive constitutional right (at least, not as it stands today). And it seems out of step with the Court’s general practice, stated in its rules, that certiorari is “rarely granted when the asserted error consists of … the misapplication of a properly stated rule of law.”
Indeed, as the SCOTUS often points out in denying review to the plebeians: the SCOTUS is not a “court of error”. Shit happens in the courts below, and if we tried to correct everything we’d never be able to sit for our portraits for lack of time.
But the SCOTUS blog article actually broaches a previously prohibited topic when it analyzes a little further:
One of two things appears to be happening…The other possibility is that, in occasional cases, the Justices can’t resist stepping in when they think a case has been wrongly decided – in the same manner that the Justices summarily reverse other types of cases, particularly (though not exclusively) grants of habeas corpus [ED. NOTE: a grant of habeas corpus is always a ruling against the government] …if the second [i.e., this] theory is correct, wouldn’t we see dissents expressing concern that the Court is engaging in what appears to be freewheeling error-correction in favor of government defendants? One possible answer is that the impulse to correct certain errors is shared by the entire Court, although – given the controversy that civil rights cases often attract – such unanimity would be unusual.
Apparently the answer is “no” – we wouldn’t see such dissents. The problem here is that “unanimity” is not at all “unusual” – in favor of the government, and as the SCOTUS blog article points out, such unanimity can also be found in another kind of case whenever the government loses in the courts below. The common thread in “unanimity” being, then, not what type of case it is or any kind of rule of procedure or law, but rather whose ox is being gored.
This is not the rule of law, but rather its opposite.
The case the SCOTUS blog article is discussing seems all the more egregious when one considers that the whole immunity doctrine is made up by judges to favor the government in the first place. The statute involved (42 U.S.C. 1983) is effectively eviscerated by the judge made immunity doctrine:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress…
Essentially, only people who are officials of state governments can be “persons” within the meaning of this statute; thus they are the only people who can be held liable at all. But the SCOTUS – invented immunity doctrine says that these same people are immune from being held liable – every single one of them, the only question being whether they are absolutely immune or “qualifiedly” immune. Isn’t that a neat trick?
So the SCOTUS favors the government in devising the immunity doctrine to make verdicts against government actors rare, and then favors them again by intervening when they think one of those rare instances has been an error, when they wouldn’t do the same for any other kind of litigant.
Got the picture? The fish rots from the head.