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 Alito, 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 Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, 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.
“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 Ginsburg.
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.
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 Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
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