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On The Front Lines

Supreme Court’s Final Rulings Insulate Cops Against Lawsuits, Sanction Incompetence, Undermine Miranda Rights & Affirm Death by Firing Squad

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the midst of politically polarizing rulings on abortion, gun rights and religion, the U.S. Supreme Court closed out its 2021-22 term with a handful of disparate rulings that served to further shield federal officials and police against lawsuits arising out of their misconduct, incompetence and brutality, undermine longstanding remedies for Miranda violations, and allow a death row inmate to seek death by a firing squad as an alternative form of execution.

“The Supreme Court has spoken: there will be no consequences for cops who brutalize the citizenry and no justice for the victims of police brutality,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “These rulings are a chilling reminder that in the American police state, ‘we the people’ are at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to ‘serve and protect.’”

In a 6-3 decision in Egbert v. Boule, the U.S. Supreme Court limited the ability of individuals to sue federal officials for misconduct when it ruled that a bed-and-breakfast owner who was roughed up by a Border Patrol agent could not sue the officer for warrantlessly intruding on his property and violating his Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force and then retaliating against the owner after he filed a grievance with the agent’s supervisors. In Cope v. Cogdill, the Supreme Court let stand a Fifth Circuit ruling that granted qualified immunity to a jailhouse officer who watched a suicidal pretrial detainee strangle himself without intervening or calling for help despite having been specifically trained to deal with such medical emergencies. Likewise, in Ramirez v. Guadarrama, the Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling granting qualified immunity from a claim of excessive force to police officers who fired their tasers at a suicidal man who had doused himself in gasoline, causing the man to burst into flames in front of his wife and son, despite knowing from their training and the warning of another officer that discharging their tasers would ignite the gasoline.

In a 6-3 ruling in Vega v. Tekoh, the Supreme Court addressed the consequences of police failing to give Miranda warnings by informing suspects that they have a right against self-incrimination when in custody: namely, that they have a right to remain silent, to have an attorney present, and that anything they say and do can and will be used against them in a court of law. Although the Supreme Court stopped short of overturning its 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, the conservative majority declared that individuals cannot hold police accountable in a civil suit for failing to give Miranda warnings. Finally, in a 5-4 opinion in Nance v. Ward, the Supreme Court ruled that death row inmates can seek alternative methods of execution, such as by firing squad, as part of their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment in lawsuits brought pursuant to Title 42, Section 1983 of the United States Code.

Catherine E. Stetson, Dana A. Raphael, and Allison M. Wuertz of Hogan Lovells US LLP helped The Rutherford Institute to advance the arguments in the Nance v. Ward amicus brief.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.


Case History

March 11, 2022 • Death Row Inmate Asks for Execution by Firing Squad

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