“Bradley is important for two reasons. First, Justice Field, again writing for the Court, clarified what it means to act ‘in excess of jurisdiction’ by introducing a distinction between acts done in excess of jurisdiction and acts done in ‘the clear absence of…jurisdiction.’ It was the latter condition, met only when a judge knowingly adjudicates a matter without subject matter jurisdiction, that the Bradley Court deemed to fall outside the parameters of judicial immunity. To illustrate the distinction, Justice Field offered the example that a probate court presiding over criminal matters would be acting in the absence of jurisdiction. By contrast, a criminal court acting with general jurisdiction could find an accused guilty of a nonexistent crime, yet face no liability, because that court did not act in the absence of jurisdiction, but merely exceeded its jurisdiction. Although this distinction is not entirely clear, it appears that a judge serving on a court of general jurisdiction has virtually no limit to her immunity, so long as she is performing a judicial act. Second, the Bradley Court asserted that the remedy afforded to one against whom a judge has acted maliciously or corruptly is ‘public prosecution in the form of impeachment, or in such other form as may be specially prescribed.’ Here, the Court argued that allowing any inquiry into a judge’s motive would crystallize in the form of ‘vexatious litigation,’ which should be avoided in order to protect judicial independence and to promote finality of judgments. Thus, the Bradley Court seemed to say that allegations of malicious or corrupt motives do not push a judicial act out from behind the shield of judicial immunity.”

Source: Timothy M. Stengel. “Absolute Judicial Immunity Makes Absolutely No Sense. An Argument For An Exception To Judicial Immunity.” 84 Temple Law Review 1071, 1077-1078. 2012


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