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Judicial Immunity Reexamined - Should Its Boundaries Be Redefined?

NCJ Number
Court Review Volume: 20 Issue: 1 Dated: (Fall 1982) Pages: 12-16
R J Emmett
Date Published
5 pages
In two recent decisions, the United States Supreme Court prescribed a framework upon which future consideration of judicial immunity should be grounded.
Rarely having been questioned in the past, the concept of judicial immunity has recently become the subject of intense review and reexamination. In response to this trend, the Supreme Court has articulated its current view of judicial immunity. In Stump v. Sparkman, the Court upheld a State judge's claim of judicial immunity against civil liability for having approved, by way of an ex parte proceeding, a petition requesting the tubal ligation of a retarded 15-year-old girl. The Court reiterated its conviction to what it considers a well-established principle of law, that judges are not liable to civil actions for their judicial acts even when such acts are alleged to have been done maliciously and corruptly and are allegedly in excess of their jurisdiction. The Court held that the two criteria for determining whether immunity should apply are whether the judge had jurisdiction over the subject matter and whether the judge's act was judicial in nature. In Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers Union, a case involving an appeal from a district court judgment that included an assessment of attorney's fees against Virginia's highest court, the Court refined further its definition of a judicial act. In this decision, the Court recognized that judges may assume any of a variety of roles as the basis for their actions. While these two decisions represent the authoritative, contemporary statement on the doctrine of judicial immunity, many questions remain unanswered, particularly with regard to immunity's applicability to declaratory or injunctive judgments. Fifty-six reference notes are provided.


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