Here's how Bill Barr is trying to dodge accountability for his dark role in the assault on Lafayette Square

Here's how Bill Barr is trying to dodge accountability for his dark role in the assault on Lafayette Square
President Donald J. Trump walks from the White House Monday evening, June 1, 2020, to St. John’s Episcopal Church, known as the church of Presidents’s, that was damaged by fire during demonstrations in nearby LaFayette Square Sunday evening. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

U.S. Attorney General William Barr is facing a lawsuit brought by members of Black Lives Matter and other activist groups, who allege that the constitutional rights of nonviolent George Floyd protesters were violated when, on June 1, they were violently removed by law enforcement from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. in order to clear a path for President Donald Trump and his allies to walk from the White House to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op. But Barr, reporter Colin Kalmbacher notes in Law & Crime, is arguing that that lawsuit lacks merit because he enjoys “qualified immunity.”


In a memo filed this week, Barr argued, “Following days of unrest in the nation’s capital, on June 1, 2020, law enforcement officers dispersed a large crowd that had gathered in Lafayette Square across from the White House. In their complaint, plaintiffs allege that the attorney general gave the order to clear the park, which plaintiffs claim violated their constitutional and statutory rights.”

The lawsuit, according to Kalmacher, is partly “premised on a Bivens action.” The term “Bivens action” comes from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, and Kalmacher describes a “Bivens action” as “the lone remedy for suing a federal agent who deprives someone of their constitutional rights.”

“In Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, the Supreme Court found that Federal Bureau of Narcotics agents violated the 4th Amendment rights of Webster Bivens by entering his home, searching it and then arresting him without a warrant,” Kalmbacher explains. “The High Court threw down the gauntlet against this fairly common and illegal law enforcement practice — not only tossing the drug charges, but allowing Bivens to sue for redress and damages by finding an implied right because the right violated by federal agents was sacrosanct under the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.”

Kalmbacher adds, however, that “Bivens actions are increasingly difficult to win,” emphasizing that the U.S. attorney general “can almost certainly rest assured that” the claims in the lawsuit from BLM and others “never even see the light of a courtroom due to the doctrine of qualified immunity.”

Barr’s memo says: “The attorney general maintains that the claims against him are not viable and, as is his right, is preparing to file a motion to dismiss that will assert several threshold defenses from suit, including qualified immunity.”

One civil rights attorney who disagrees with Barr’s claim of “qualified immunity” is Sasha Samberg-Champion, who tweeted:

And Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, known for his expertise on immigration law, sarcastically chimed in:

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