Professor Co-Leads ALI Project Examining Constitutional Torts

John C. Jeffries Jr.

John C. Jeffries Jr. is a David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law. Photo by Ian Bradshaw

October 21, 2022

Professor John C. Jeffries Jr. ’73 of the University of Virginia School of Law will co-lead the American Law Institute’s project evaluating liability for constitutional violations under federal law.

The ALI approved the project, Restatement of the Law, Constitutional Torts, on Friday, with Jeffries and Stanford Law School professor Pamela S. Karlan serving as reporters. Karlan is a former UVA Law professor.

The restatement will examine the law of Section 1983, which provides an individual the right to sue state government employees and others acting “under color of state law” in federal court for violations of federal law. The project also will cover Bivens actions, the analogous cause of action for violations by a federal officer. (The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1971 that individuals have an implied cause of action against federal government officials who have violated their constitutional rights.)

Among other topics, the restatement will cover governmental immunities from suit, local government liability for official policy or custom, and restrictions on Section 1983 actions imposed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the overlapping law of federal habeas corpus.

Jeffries said documenting the law of qualified immunity for various rights and in various situations is likely to be the largest single topic in the restatement.

“Whether under Section 1983 or Bivens, immunity is the largest single topic in the law of constitutional torts,” he said. “The president has an immunity that no state officer can claim, but otherwise state and federal defendants are parallel. Legislative, judicial and some prosecutorial functions trigger absolute immunity. The boundaries of absolute immunity are, especially for prosecutors, not always clear and are intensely controversial. Executive officers enjoy qualified immunity, the contours of which are complicated and contested.”

ALI’s restatements of the law are primarily addressed to courts and aim at clear formulations of common law and its statutory elements, and reflect the law as it presently stands or might appropriately be stated by a court.

Jeffries, a David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law, joined the faculty two years after earning his law degree in 1973. His primary research and teaching interests are civil rights, federal courts, criminal law and constitutional law. Jeffries has co-authored casebooks in civil rights, federal courts and criminal law, and has published a variety of articles in those fields. He also wrote a biography of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.

He served as academic associate dean from 1994-99, acting dean during the fall semester of 1999 and dean from 2001-08. In 2017, he received the Thomas Jefferson Award, which is the highest honor given to members of the University community. From August 2018 to January 2021, he was senior vice president for advancement at the University. In addition to teaching in the Law School, he serves as counselor to UVA President Jim Ryan ’92.

Jeffries is a member of the American Law Institute and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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