“The Supreme Court ruled today that state judges may be sued for civil rights violations and may be ordered to pay the lawyers’ fees of those who sue them successfully.
While the 5-to-4 decision permitted only suits for injunctions, not damages, it marked a significant retreat from the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity to which the Court has long adhered.
Six years ago, for example, the Court ruled that a judge who had ordered a young woman to be sterilized without her knowledge or consent was absolutely immune from the woman’s subsequent damage suit.
The decision today, written by Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun, retained the bar against suits for damages. But the dissenters, in an opinion by Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell, argued that there was little practical difference, from the point of view of a judge’s pocketbook, between a damage suit and an order to pay lawyers’ fees.”