Reps. Johnson, Raskin re-introduce bill to hold federal law enforcement officers accountable

December 8, 20216min3550

Hank Johnson




WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressmen Hank Johnson (GA) and Jamie Raskin (MD) re-introduced The Bivens Bill, legislation that allows citizens to recover damages for constitutional violations committed against them by federal law enforcement officials, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Justice (DOJ) and federal prison officials.

The lawmakers first introduced the Bivens Bill in 2020. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) introduced a companion in the Senate. The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Alex Padilla (CA), Ed Markey (MA), and Ron Wyden (OR).

After the Civil War, Congress enacted 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to ensure that state and local officials could not violate individuals’ federal constitutional rights with impunity. Section 1983 is designed to allow individuals to sue state and local officials to recover damages for constitutional violations. It is the primary tool victims of police brutality use to seek redress for constitutional injuries at the state and local level. But there is no comparable federal statute providing an express cause of action for victims of constitutional violations.

Instead, victims of constitutional or statutory violations by federal officials have been left to implied causes of action. Since the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bivens doctrine has recognized limited circumstances in which the Constitution itself authorizes a self-executing remedy for damages. But the Court has significantly curtailed the availability of Bivens claims in recent years. In February 2020, the Court in Hernandez v. Mesa went so far as to note that “it is doubtful” today’s Court would have recognized Bivens claims at all.

“Victims of constitutional violations by federal officers too often have no legal recourse,” said Rep. Johnson. “From ICE officers who conduct illegal searches and seizures and Bureau of Land Management officials who intimidate property owners into providing easements to the peaceful protestors who were violently dispersed from Lafayette Square with teargas and rubber bullets last summer so Trump could get his Bible photo op – they are all too often immunized from damages for their constitutional wrongs. This bill fixes the issue by increasing judicial accountability for unlawful federal government action.”

“The Bivens Act will finally codify the people’s right to seek damages from the federal government when their constitutional rights have been violated,”said Congressman Raskin. “Just last year, we watched then-Attorney General Barr unleash a ragtag paramilitary squad of federal law enforcement officers to deploy tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square. Many of those injured that day, including several of my constituents, may find themselves without an effective legal remedy. This bill will right that wrong by allowing affected citizens to recover damages and hold federal law enforcement officials accountable for misconduct. I am proud to introduce this legislation with my friend and colleague Congressman Hank Johnson.”

“We ought to have one set of clear, fair standards of accountability for law enforcement officers that applies across all levels of government—federal, state, and local,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “In practice, a confusing smorgasbord of judicial precedent prevents victims from holding federal law enforcement accountable for constitutional violations.  The Bivens Act fixes this problem.”

Cosponsors: Carson (IN), Lee (CA), Jackson Lee (TX), Jones (NY), Lieu (CA), Norton (DC), Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Scanlon (PA), Schakowsky (IL) Tlaib (MI).

Supporting Groups: American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Blacks in Law Enforcement of America, Border Network for Human Rights, Center for Disability Rights, Center for Victims of Torture, Central American Resource Center of Northern CA – CARACEN SF, Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, Constitutional Accountability Center, Defending Rights & Dissent, Drug Policy Alliance, Fair and Just Prosecution, Government Information Watch, Incarcerated Nation Network, Innocence Project, Institute for Justice, Just Futures Law, Justice in Motion, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), Legal Aid Justice Center, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., National Crittenton, National Immigration Project (NIPNLG), National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Open Society Policy Center, Project On Government Oversight, Protect Democracy, Rebuilding Independence My Style, Restore the Fourth, The Black Police Experience, The Daniel Initiative, Vday.


To read the bill, click HERE. To read the coalition letter, click HERE.


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