The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled against a man who attempted to sue a Border Patrol agent, alleging the agent violated his constitutional rights by using excessive force.
The 6-3 ruling was divided along ideological lines. Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh — who make up the court’s conservative majority — voted to throw out the lawsuit, while liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer dissented.
“The case concerned whether a lawsuit should be allowed to move forward against a Border Patrol agent accused of using excessive force during his search of an inn located just south of the U.S.-Canada border,” The Hill reported.
“The conservative majority, citing national security concerns, declined to extend a judge-made rule that allows plaintiffs to sue federal officers for certain constitutional violations. That relief, based on a precedent set by Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, is generally disfavored by judicial conservatives.”
Thomas, who penned the majority opinion, wrote that some issues are not “proper subjects for judicial intervention.”
“Because matters intimately related to foreign policy and national security are rarely proper subjects for judicial intervention,” he wrote, “we reaffirm that a Bivens cause of action may not lie where, as here, national security is at issue.”
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, summed up the facts of the case.
“The case involved a Blaine, Wash., establishment called the Smuggler’s Inn that straddles the Canadian border. The proprietor, Robert Boule, sometimes worked with immigration agents but also housed foreign nationals who on occasion used his property to cross the border unlawfully, the court said, noting that he had pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Canada,” the outlet said.
Back in 2014, Boule relayed information to a federal agent named Erik Egbert about a Turkish traveler who was scheduled to stay at the inn.
“Mr. Egbert later entered Mr. Boule’s property to investigate the guest and a confrontation followed,” The Journal said. “When Mr. Boule asked Mr. Egbert to leave, the agent allegedly ‘lifted him off the ground and threw him against [an] SUV. After Boule collected himself, Agent Egbert allegedly threw him to the ground.'”
“Mr. Boule filed a complaint with the agent’s supervisors, after which Mr. Egbert allegedly retaliated by contacting various state and federal authorities about him. That led the Internal Revenue Service to audit Mr. Boule’s taxes; he was cleared, but he said he was forced to pay his accountant $5,000 in fees to deal with the audit.”
Boule sued the agent in 2017, seeking personal damages. He received an adverse ruling from a federal district court, before an appeals court said his lawsuit could proceed.
According to The New York Times, the “basic message” of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday was this: that only Congress, not the courts, can authorize “lawsuits seeking money from federal officials accused of violating constitutional rights.”
In a concurring opinion, Gorsuch suggested the majority ruling didn’t go far enough.
“If the costs and benefits do not justify a new Bivens action on facts so analogous to Bivens itself, it’s hard to see how they ever could. And if the only question is whether a court is ‘better equipped’ than Congress to weigh the value of a new cause of action, surely the right answer will always be no,” he said.