Supreme Court rules Saucier Government Offiical qualified immunity test not mandatory in every case

Jan. 21, 2009

The US Supreme Court Wednesday ruled unanimously in Pearson v. Callahan that the test for whether a government official is entitled to qualified immunity, established by the Court in 2001 in Saucier v. Katz, is no longer mandatory in every case.


Under Saucier, a judge first had to decide whether a government official’s action violated the Constitution and only if there was a violation, then whether the constitutional right was “clearly established” at the time of the violation.


In this case, police officers entered respondents’ home without a warrant and conducted a search that respondents allege was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Samuel Alito wrote:


We now hold that the Saucier procedure should not be regarded as an inflexible requirement and that petitioners are entitled to qualified immunity on the ground that it was not clearly established at the time of the search that their conduct was unconstitutional.


The ruling overturns the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which held that petitioners were not entitled to qualified immunity.

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