Are public officials special?

June 4th, 2012

So special that those who protect public officials are more free to violate the constitutional rights of others than run-of-the-mill police officers who are assigned to “serve and protect” regular schmucks like us?

That is what Justice Ginsburg stated in her concurring opinion in Reichle v. Howards:

Were defendants ordinary law enforcement officers, I would hold that Hartman v. Moore, 547 U. S. 250 (2006), does not support their entitlement to qualified immunity. Hartman involved a charge of retaliatory prosecution . . . Nevertheless, I concur in the Court’s judgment. Officers assigned to protect public officials must make singularly swift, on the spot, decisions whether the safety of the person they are guarding is in jeopardy. In performing that protective function, they rightly take into account words spoken to, or in the proximity of, the person whose safety is their charge

This reminds me of a proposal introduced in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting that would ban the carrying of firearms within 1,000 feet of “certain high-profile government officials.” I am lukewarm to the law so blatantly recognizing that the life and security of public officials are more important than the rest of us. Sure, they are assigned security details paid for by taxpayer dollars. But to relax constitutional rights, and for the courts to sanction this abandonment of these rights by granting qualified immunity, bothers me somewhat. Why are certain people, by virtue of their station, entitled to additional protections under the law, at the expense of the liberties the rest of us posses.