Intro. What Is Included and Sourced in the Constitution Annotated: Supreme Court Cases on Qualified Immunity

In cases where plaintiffs seek monetary damages from federal or state government officials, the Supreme Court, in a doctrine commonly referred to as qualified immunity, has held that liability exists only when the government official's conduct violates clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.1 Determining whether a constitutional right is clearly established is related to determining what that constitutional right entails. However, these two inquiries are conceptually distinct. The Court has held that a court does not necessarily need to determine whether a constitutional right has been violated in order to afford a government official qualified immunity.2 Moreover, for a constitutional right to be clearly established, [t]he contours of th[at] right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.3 As a consequence, a ruling that a government official is entitled to qualified immunity may provide little insight into the scope of the underlying constitutional right. Only qualified immunity cases that inform the general understanding of the scope of particular constitutional rights are, as a rule, included in the Constitution Annotated.


  1.  Jump to essay-1See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).
  2.  Jump to essay-2See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009) (rejecting the proposition that a qualified immunity inquiry must necessarily resolve whether a constitutional right has been violated before determining whether the underlying constitutional right was clearly established).
  3.  Jump to essay-3See Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987).