Dems' allies demand police lose lawsuit protection, reviving sticking point in racial-justice deal

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Top liberal groups on Thursday threatened to oppose a Capitol Hill deal for a racial-justice overhaul of policing that does not expose officers to lawsuits for their conduct on duty.

The ultimatum from the coalition of 29 liberal groups upped the pressure on Democrats not to cave to Republican demands that police retain qualified immunity, a legal standard shielding cops from civil lawsuits when they violating civil rights while on the job.

The groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the AFL-CIO, made the demand in a letter made public Thursday.

In the letter to the lead Democratic and Republican negotiators, the liberal groups said they would oppose a GOP compromise that would allow police departments rather than the officers to face civil penalties such as monetary damages from lawsuits.

The compromise, offered by the Republicans’ lead negotiator, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, appeared to have set the stage for a deal.

The hard-line stance by the left, however, threatened to restore a major obstacle to a bipartisan deal.

Mr. Scott has said he would not agree to any deal that exposes officers to lawsuits. At the same time, the negotiators are running out of time before lawmakers leave Washington for a monthlong summer vacation in August.

“We write to express our serious concerns about the state of negotiations on qualified immunity and empowering victims of police misconduct to hold law enforcement officers and agencies accountable through civil lawsuits,” the groups wrote, noting that ending the legal protection for officers was a key demand of protesters who took to the streets after George Floyd’s killing.

Protecting officers from being sued, the groups wrote, would leave “no recourse for the victims of other forms of brutality; violations of First Amendment rights, including religious liberties; intrusions on privacy and dignity; sexual abuse; and other unconstitutional conduct by law enforcement that does not meet these narrow parameters.”

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