Bogan v. Scott-Harris
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion for the unanimous court, beginning with the observation that "[i]t is well established that federal, state, and regional legislators are entitled to absolute immunity from civil liability for their legislative activities," and extending that to local officials performing legislative functions, including introducing, voting for, and signing an ordinance eliminating the government office held by the plaintiff.
Justice Thomas observed:
- The principle that legislators are absolutely immune from liability for their legislative activities has long been recognized in Anglo-American law. This privilege "has taproots in the Parliamentary struggles of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries" and was "taken as a matter of course by those who severed the Colonies from the Crown and founded our Nation." Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 372, 95 L. Ed. 1019, 71 S. Ct. 783 (1951). The Federal Constitution, the constitutions of many of the newly independent States, and the common law thus protected legislators from liability for their legislative activities. See U.S. Const., Art. I, § 6; Tenney v. Brandhove, supra, 341 U.S. 367 at 372-375.
- Recognizing this venerable tradition, we have held that state and regional legislators are entitled to absolute immunity from liability under § 1983 for their legislative activities. See Tenney v. Brandhove, supra (state legislators); Lake Country Estates, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 440 U.S. 391, 59 L. Ed. 2d 401, 99 S. Ct. 1171 (1979) (regional legislators); 3 see also Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U.S. 168, 202-204, 26 L. Ed. 377 (1881) (interpreting the federal Speech and Debate Clause, U.S. Const., Art. I, § 6, to provide similar immunity to Members of Congress). We explained that legislators were entitled to absolute immunity from suit at common law and that Congress did not intend the general language of § 1983 to "impinge on a tradition so well grounded in history and reason." Tenney v. Brandhove, supra, at 376. Because the common law accorded local legislators the same absolute immunity it accorded legislators at other levels of government, and because the rationales for such immunity are fully applicable to local legislators, we now hold that local legislators are likewise absolutely immune from suit under § 1983 for their legislative activities.