Golden Statement on H.R. 1280, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

March 3, 2021
Press Release

Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02) released the following statement today after his vote against H.R. 1280, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

“Every American should be treated equally before the law, regardless of race, gender, economic status, or any other factor. Our country needs to reckon with the racism and inequality which have persisted for far too long. And there must be accountability for gross negligence in the use of force by a law enforcement officer like what took place in Minneapolis with the killing of George Floyd.

“The bill before us today includes many good provisions that would bring about positive change. Among the most significant are the establishment of a national registry for police misconduct and increased data-gathering to help inform oversight and encourage a sustained commitment to progress. I support many other provisions in the bill -- such as the encouragement of de-escalation tactics, banning chokeholds unless deadly force is authorized, collecting data on the use of force, ensuring outside review in all deadly force cases, and conducting anti-bias training -- policies that have long been in use at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, the single clearinghouse in our state for certification as a police officer.

“Last summer, following the first attempt to pass this legislation, I argued that we were at an inflection point and that the House and the Senate needed to set aside partisan differences and come together to meet the moment to deliver on demands for reform. My vote for the bill at the time reflected my sincere desire to move forward with negotiations, even though I held significant concerns about how the House bill eliminated qualified immunity protections for law enforcement officers.

“Unfortunately, there have been no negotiations since the legislation’s first passage, and the bill before us retains those same problematic changes. Because I understand what it is like to make split second, life-and-death decisions under pressure, and out of respect for the difficult decisions confronting law enforcement officers in the line of duty, I will not support this legislation today.

“Eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement officers could result in unintended consequences for both individual law enforcement officers and the profession as a whole. Even so, there is room for lawmakers to clarify the intent of Section 1983 to ensure that American citizens’ rights are safeguarded while still ensuring law enforcement officers retain appropriate protections while on the job.

“While I am concerned about eliminating qualified immunity entirely, I do believe there are reasonable criticisms about how the courts have interpreted the doctrine, and given its evolution in recent years, I believe that lawmakers or the Supreme Court may need to take another look at it. For example, I believe that the Court overreached in Pearson v. Callahan (2009), ruling that courts have discretion to focus only on whether the conduct in question was a ‘clearly established’ violation of law without first considering if an individual’s rights had been violated. In the years that have followed the Pearson decision, there is evidence that plaintiffs in excessive force cases have had a more difficult time getting past qualified immunity.

“In the past year, I have heard from Mainers across my district on these issues, including many law enforcement officers, who have all expressed support for lawful protests against racism. Law enforcement officers have spoken passionately about their commitment to protecting their communities, and they are open to new policies that could bring about improvements to how they do the job. With that in mind, there was a lot of room for agreement between the House and Senate bills last summer, and that still remains true today. That is why we should not let the failures of the last Congress lead us down the same path again. The nation needs to see that Congress can work together on difficult issues to deliver results. I hope the action the House takes today does not mark the end of the conversation, but instead can spur a renewed effort to find necessary compromise and get something positive done for the American people.”- Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02)