Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana introduced a bill last week which would drastically scale back something known as “qualified immunity.”
Roughly put, qualified immunity precludes police officers or other government employees from “liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established … rights of which a reasonable person would have known,” as per a Supreme Court decision on the matter.
The bill is a compromise of sorts, since Democrats want to go further with legislation that would eliminate it entirely. The Reforming Qualified Immunity Act, according to Fox News, would scale back qualified immunity to cases where “the conduct in question had previously been authorized or required by federal or state law or regulation, or if a court had ruled the conduct was lawful and Constitutional.”
Braun has said the current standard is “overly broad” and “allows law enforcement in many of the high-profile excessive force and abuse of power cases to avoid civil suits,” the Indianapolis Star reported.
Qualified immunity is a thorny issue, and one where it’s possible for reasonable conservatives to disagree.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, for instance, finds himself on the opposite side of the debate. However, he had taken more umbrage with how Braun weaved Black Lives Matter and the shooting of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police into prior remarks about the bill.
During a contentious Monday appearance on the show, Carlson ripped Braun for the decision.
Braun was appearing after Carlson had criticized Braun’s proposal on a June 25 episode of the Fox host’s program. Shortly afterward, Braun fired off this tweet:
.@TuckerCarlson I want to REFORM qualified immunity, NOT END IT. And you DID NOT ask me on your show to defend myself, but I’d still be happy to come on to discuss QI reform & how my plan would hold mostly Democrat city admins accountable for decades of failure on civil rights.
— Senator Mike Braun (@SenatorBraun) June 26, 2020
When Braun appeared on the show, he seemed most flat-footed when dealing with questions about his appearance on the “Against the Grain” podcast.
On whether he supported Black Lives Matter, Braun had told the podcast: “I support that movement because it’s addressing an inequity that has not been solved from a grassroots level.”
On his reasons for advancing his legislation: “I wanted to put a template out there that protects law enforcement from frivolous lawsuits but holds the egregious departments and individuals accountable in these egregious instances of George Floyd or Rayshard Brooks or Breonna Taylor.”
Beyond the obvious issues with the Black Lives Matter movement comments, the Brooks case is also significantly different than either the Floyd or Taylor deaths.
Brooks had resisted arrest, tussled with law enforcement, taken an officer’s taser and then shot it at police. That’s significantly dissimilar circumstances from either of the other incidents Braun was citing.
The Black Lives Matter comment was obviously the most unusual remark from the interview, however, and it’s what Carlson dealt with first.
“I was very surprised by that endorsement that you gave on camera of Black Lives Matter,” Carlson said. “Black Lives Matter has, of course, called for the murder of police officers. Why do you support it and are there any other race-specific revolutionary movements that you support?”
Braun’s answer had virtually nothing to do with the Black Lives Matter question, quickly devolving into campaign platitudes.
For instance, tell me if you’ve ever heard this kind of boilerplate talk from a politician: “Tucker, I come from Main Street. Your viewers are my supporters. I’ve got one of the most conservative voting records.”
I was halfway surprised he didn’t have a baby just off-camera so that he could drag the crying tot on for him to kiss.
Tucker was similarly unconvinced: “Have you read their [Black Lives Matter] website? Are you in favor of abolishing the nuclear family?”
Carlson was referring to language on the website of the central Black Lives Matter organization. “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable,” it says.
So what does his support mean?
“I support anybody that does have a grievance to be able to air it, and that’s it,” Braun said. “That doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter. It just means that if you think a certain sector of society has a grievance, it ought to be through transparency and a willingness to debate it and get it out there.”
In other words, it means nothing beyond the fact he felt obligated by the circumstances of the moment to say that.
Then there was the issue of Rayshard Brooks.
“We just showed tape of you saying that we need to pull back, we need to make it easier to sue the police because of ‘egregious incidents’ like the death of Rayshard Brooks,” Carlson said. “Do you believe that he was killed unjustly? Do you believe Officer Rolfe deserves the death penalty, which he now faces? What did you mean by that?”
This answer, again, was a masterclass in how to say nothing while still having words coming out of your mouth: “I believe you ought to have the ability to, just when anyone’s civil rights would been violated, that you’ve got access to due process, to have your case heard.”
“Oh, but they do,” Carlson responded. “They do have that right. Qualified immunity has nothing to do with that case.”
“Do you believe that the officer are now facing the death penalty deserves to face the death penalty? And if you don’t, tell us what he should have done.”
After pressing for a bit, he finally got an answer out of Braun that didn’t involve him saying the courts ought to decide it.
“I think that you probably should have had the judgment in a traffic stop like that,” Braun said. “You don’t shoot somebody in the back.”
“I want you to explain, I think it’s fair. You’re an officeholder,” Carlson responded. “I don’t normally press people like this but it’s not fair for you to filibuster without answering my question, which is very simple: The officer facing the death penalty had a guy fire a weapon at him. What should he have done then?”
“Probably not have killed the guy,” Braun said. “And that’ll come out in court.”
I generally like Mike Braun, but this appearance isn’t going to provide him with a wealth of donor clips. Later in the interview, he would sheepishly suggest that he was putting forth his bill so that Chuck Schumer wasn’t able to control the narrative around qualified immunity before the November election, which doesn’t sound like it makes for particularly good legislation — not that Braun sounds like he believes in it, anyway.
“Chuck Schumer has already decided he can make hay of this in the election and we will end up on the short side of it again,” Braun said.
This is a guy who talks as if he’s been thoroughly trounced by circumstance and has forgotten that his party, not Schumer’s, is in control of the Senate, though Carlson would remind him.
“Who controls the Senate?” Carlson replied. “I thought Republicans controlled the Senate. So you’re taking your cues from Chuck Schumer [and] saying, ‘He might criticize me, therefore I have to pass a law that makes it easier to sue police?'”
There are important takeaways form this interview, though, particularly around how empty language has crept into our political lexicon.
Either Black Lives Matter is a three-word truism that means nothing or it has a connection to an extremist organization with pernicious links to Marxism. Either the officers charged in the shooting of Rayshard Brooks deserve a fair trial or it’s entirely reasonable for an elected official to essentially declare them guilty because it sounds great in a throwaway line designed to show how much he cares about black individuals whose death was caused by police officers.
It’s clear from this interview that Braun really meant nothing by his statements. And that’s precisely the problem.
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