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Will Justices Make Federal Law Enforcers Liable For Crimes?

When Hamdi Mohamud was a child, she was taken from Somalia’s violence and corruption to Minnesota. There, she endured prolonged incarceration because of corrupt behavior by Heather Weyker, a St. Paul police officer deputized by a federal task force. In 2011, Mohamud, then 16, was a bystander at a fight involving a knife-wielding girl who was a witness in Weyker’s “investigation” of a nonexistent Somali immigrant crime ring, writes columnist George Will in the Washington Post. Judges found that Weyker “exaggerated or fabricated” and “misstated facts,” to have been caught “lying to the grand jury” and lying “during a detention hearing.” Weyker got Mohamud arrested on suspicion of witness tampering. She spent almost 25 months in federal custody.

When Mohamud sued for violations of her constitutional rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that because Weyker acted as a federal officer, she could not be sued at all. Seven U.S. appeals courts recognize a damages remedy for the kind of injuries Mohamud. Some 60 million Americans live in the states covered by the two circuit courts that have turned a federal officer’s badge into a license for lawlessness: In those states, it confers almost absolute immunity from being sued for violations of constitutional rights for which nonfederal law enforcement officers can be sued. On Jan. 7, the Supreme Court will decide if it will hear Mohamud's argument for ending the anti-constitutional anomaly of almost impregnable immunity for federal officials who commit constitutional violations, Will writes. He says the court should hear their case because, for 50 years, it has been shielding government officials from accountability through doctrines such as qualified immunity, which virtually nullifies accountability for all law enforcement and other government officials.


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