Justices bar Mexican parents from suing over fatal cross-border shooting of teen

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the family of a Mexican teenager killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent in a cross-border shooting cannot sue in American federal court.

Justice Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoSupreme Court postpones April arguments Supreme Court rules Citgo responsible for 2004 oil spill Supreme Court postpones oral arguments amid coronavirus pandemic MORE, in his 5-4 conservative majority opinion, said the court steered a cautious route given the potential implications on U.S. foreign policy and national security presented by the “tragic case.”

Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasSupreme Court postpones April arguments Supreme Court rules Citgo responsible for 2004 oil spill Trump steps up intensity in battle with media MORE, Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughTrump nominates former Kavanaugh clerk for influential appeals court Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Progressives urge Democrats to hear from federal judge deeply critical of Roberts, conservatives MORE and Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchHillicon Valley: Twitter says Chinese official's virus disinformation doesn't violate rules | Hackers target WHO | Senators urge agencies to stop coronavirus robocalls Supreme Court raises bar for racial discrimination claims in contracts Progressives urge Democrats to hear from federal judge deeply critical of Roberts, conservatives MORE, the court’s reliable conservatives, ruled that courts should yield to the executive branch and Congress to handle instances of lethal cross-border force by agents.

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“To avoid upsetting the delicate web of international relations, we typically presume that even congressionally crafted causes of action do not apply outside our borders,” Alito wrote. “These concerns are only heightened when judges are asked to fashion constitutional remedies.”

The conservative majority also highlighted the “large volume of illegal cross-border traffic” and widespread drug-smuggling efforts in explaining their judicial restraint.

The court’s four liberal justices joined a dissent written by Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgSupreme Court postpones April arguments Ginsburg's personal trainer says she's working out amid the pandemic Supreme Court raises bar for racial discrimination claims in contracts MORE.

The case arose after agent Jesus Mesa Jr., standing on U.S. soil, shot and killed a 15-year-old Mexican national. The teenager, Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca, had briefly entered U.S. territory, before running back across the border into Mexico, where he was shot.

The family of the slain teenager says Hernández and his friends had been playing a game that involved running back and forth across the border. Mesa, the agent, maintains the group was engaged in an illegal border crossing and had pelted him with rocks in the run-up to the fatal shooting.

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A Justice Department investigation determined that Mesa had behaved reasonably under the circumstances.

Hernández’s survivors sued in U.S. federal district court, claiming that Mesa violated Hernández’s constitutional rights. The district court dismissed the claims, and a federal appeals court affirmed that decision, prompting the family’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

Thomas, joined by Gorsuch, wrote a concurring opinion agreeing with the majority’s decision. But Thomas added that he would have gone further in insulating federal agents from liability.

In her dissent, Ginsburg, writing for the court’s liberal bloc, said the majority overstated concerns that the case presented about foreign relations and national security. Federal courts have weighed in on similar cases, she said, and “the government has identified no deleterious effect on diplomatic negotiations.”

Ginsburg’s dissent was joined by Justices Elena KaganElena KaganSupreme Court rules states can eliminate insanity defense Key Democrat urges Supreme Court to livestream oral arguments Former public worker asks Supreme Court to force repayment of union dues MORE, Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerSupreme Court postpones April arguments Supreme Court rules states can eliminate insanity defense Supreme Court postpones oral arguments amid coronavirus pandemic MORE and Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorSupreme Court postpones April arguments Overnight Energy: Critics blast EPA move as 'license to pollute' during pandemic | Trump expected to roll back Obama mileage standards| Group plans to sue over rollback of water law Supreme Court rules Citgo responsible for 2004 oil spill MORE.