The Supreme Court passed up at least seven cases Monday that would have allowed it to reconsider aspects of qualified immunity for police.
Under "qualified immunity," police and other officials are immune from federal civil lawsuits unless their actions violated clearly established legal precedents at the time. Some courts have required an extraordinarily precise match between the misconduct alleged in one case and in a prior one in order to find a violation of someone's constitutional rights.
The court rarely explains why it is not taking cases and it did not do so Monday, but Justice Clarence Thomas recorded his dissent in connection with the decision to pass up one case stemming from a 2014 incident involving a police dog's bite of a homeless man, Alexander Baxter. Nashville police caught Baxter in the process of carrying out a burglary. He claimed he had already surrendered when the dog attacked, Politico reports.
When Baxter sued, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out his case. It held that while it was well established that a police dog couldn't be unleashed on a suspect who was lying down, there was no case addressing someone sitting down with their hands up, as Baxter said he was doing.
"There likely is no basis for the objective inquiry into clearly established law that our modern cases prescribe," Thomas wrote as he dissented from the court's refusal to hear Baxter's case.