Judicial Immunity

Judicial Immunity in the United States

Insulates judges from civil suits for actions done in the performance of their judicial functions. The doctrine of judicial immunity was intended to protect judges from fearing civil lawsuits commenced by unhappy litigants. It was felt that threat of such suit might intimidate judges from making controversial or difficult decisions. The doctrine was aimed at serving the public interest by having judges who could function with “independence” and “without fear of consequences.” See also Life Tenure (Judicial Function).

Analysis and Relevance

The Supreme Court first established the doctrine of judicial immunity in Bradley v. Fisher (13 Wallace 335: 1872). The immunity doctrine created in that case was extensive and applied to actions even when they might be “in excess of their jurisdictions” or “maliciously or corruptly” motivated. Only acts that are “non-judicial” are not covered by the immunity doctrine. This broad definition as well as some criteria for determination of “judicial” acts was incorporated into the Court’s decision in Stump v. Sparkman (435 U.S. 349: 1978). The Stump case involved a judge approving the sterilization of a minor. The judge of a general jurisdiction court was approached by the mother of the minor with a petition authorizing the process. The judge approved the petition without assigning the matter a docket number, giving notice to the minor, or appointing counsel to represent her. The Court ruled that having jurisdiction to sign the petition was determining in the case. Where judicial immunity is at issue, the “scope of jurisdiction must be construed broadly.” Furthermore, immunity exists even if the action taken by the judge was “in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority” so long as he or she had not acted in “clear absence of jurisdiction.” Clearly, said the Court, all judicial acts must be protected and no flaw in the judge’s performance makes a ruling “any less a judicial act.” The Court used two criteria in determining the action here was ajudi- cial one. First, responding to the petition was a function “normally performed by a judge.” Second, response from the judge was obtained consistently with the “expectation of the parties” that they are dealing with the judge in his or her “judicial capacity.”

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Judicial Immunity from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Judicial Immunity in the United States

Judicial Immunity

United States Constitution

According to the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, about its article titled JUDICIAL IMMUNITYIn Randall v. Brigham (1869) the Supreme Court endorsed the principle of judicial immunity. Under doctrine “as old as the law,” Justice stephen j. field wrote for the Court, judges of courts of general jurisdiction are immune from suit for judicial acts “unless perhaps where the
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Judicial Immunity meaning

Absolute immunity from liability that is granted to judges and court officers such as grand juries and prosecutors and for tortious acts or omissions done within the scope of their jurisdiction orauthority.

Judicial Immunity


Further Reading

Judicial Immunity: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Judicial Immunity. This part provides references, in relation to Judicial Immunity, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Judicial Immunity by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Judicial Immunity and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Judicial Immunity or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Judicial Immunity and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Judicial Immunity. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Judicial Immunity should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Judicial Immunity when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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