Editorial: The 18th century ‘sovereign immunity’ rule has got to go

Sovereign immunity. That word you learned in 7th grade American history class has come back to haunt us again. First showing up in our Google’s search, echoing the nation’s concerns  – “Google, can you sue the president?” Yes, worried citizens, you can sue President Donald Trump, but there are  local cases that should be raising more immediate concern.

Sovereign immunity lends its shadow to any big body of power, disallowing citizens from suing them. For example, citizens aren’t allowed to sue their state or the federal government without the government’s consent (because defendants often consult to being taken to court). A rule approved under the 11th amendment in 1795, over 200 years ago.

But why is this amendment still obstructing the way of today’s justice? Because it’s creating unnecessary hurdles in the justice system and preventing the powerful from being held accountable.

Exhibit A: DACA students filed a lawsuit against the Board of Regents (BOR) for their in-state tuition policies, but their case was denied by court based on grounds of sovereign immunity – meaning the powerful board of the University System of Georgia (USG) was not eligible to be sued because of the 18th century law. So undocumented students had to re-file that case, and sue each sitting member in the board individually. Was that necessary? Did it make a difference? Was it not a lawsuit targeting the exact same individuals with the exact same purpose? But hey, we’re all for unneeded bureaucratic procedures that limit the rights of our citizens.

Exhibit B: Our article on page 3 outlines three doctors’ case against Georgia’s ban on post-20 week abortions. The editorial would have been on whether that ban is right or wrong, but that’s based on very personal opinions – that’s not something that we could fairly point towards a right or wrong answer. But despite the fact that it’s largely debatable whether an abortion after 20 months is correct, the right of the doctor’s to question the government on that ban should be unshakeable. What kind of absolute power does the state hold to be above the law, and thus avoid the consequences for decisions like the ban?

Universities have often avoided scrutiny and repercussions by claiming sovereign immunity. The University of Arkansas cited previous Supreme Court rulings in favor of sovereign immunity when accused of negligence towards Title IX procedures and failing to investigate students’ sexual assault claims. And in a similar manner, the University of Florida was not held accountable on a patent issue based on its claims to the court of sovereign immunity.

No matter what the excuse, and we’re sure there are lots of them, any body of the court, legislative, or executive system that holds enough power to make decisions on behalf of its citizens should be eligible to be sued, and for a higher or equal power to determine the Constitutionality of their decision.

We know America has a reputation for holding on to the words of the Constitution – like that one friend that keeps making a joke that is WAY too 2013 –  but principles like sovereign immunity have to go. No one should be immune to the law, and immune to justice.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Submit all Letters to the Editor at Signalopinions@gmail.com

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