Qualified Sovereignty

39 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2021

See all articles by Kate Elengold

Kate Elengold

UNC School of Law

Jonathan Glater

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Date Written: September 9, 2021


Sometimes acts of the federal government cause harm; sometimes acts of contractors hired by the federal government cause harm. In cases involving the latter, federal contractors invoke the sovereign’s constitutionally granted and doctrinally expanded supremacy to restrict avenues for the injured to recover even from private actors. In prior work, we analyzed how federal contractors exploit three “sovereign shield” defenses—preemption, derivative sovereign immunity, and derivative intergovernmental immunity—to evade liability, accountability, and oversight.

This Article considers whether, when, and how private federal contractors should be held accountable in a court of law. We argue that a contractor should be required to qualify before it can derive the immunity enjoyed by its sovereign partner. This Article proposes that a private contractor be entitled to such “qualified sovereignty” only if it satisfies three conditions: (1) it was acting as the government’s agent, (2) it complied with any guidelines established by the government, and (3) it was reasonable for the contractor to believe that its conduct would not violate rights protected by law. Adopting its scaffolding from two embattled doctrinal constructs—derivative sovereign immunity and qualified immunity—qualified sovereignty balances the rights of victims to recover for harms with protection for private entities from unforeseen liability incurred at the government’s explicit and lawful direction.

Suggested Citation

Elengold, Kate and Glater, Jonathan, Qualified Sovereignty (September 9, 2021). Washington Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3920519

Kate Elengold (Contact Author)

UNC School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

Jonathan Glater

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) ( email )

405 Hilgard Avenue
Box 951361
Los Angeles, CA 90095
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics