Cross-border shooting lawsuit tossed out by US Supreme Court

Court declines to revive a lawsuit by a slain Mexican teen’s family against US Border Patrol agent who shot him.

Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca
Lawyer Cristobal Galindo, second from left, speaks accompanied by Jesus Hernandez, left, and Maria Guereca, and lawyer Marion Reilly in front of the Supreme Court, Tuesday, November 12, 2019, in Washington, DC, after verbal arguments [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to open the door for foreign nationals to pursue civil rights cases in American courts, declining to revive a lawsuit by a slain Mexican teenager’s family against the US Border Patrol agent who shot him on Mexican soil from across the border in Texas.

The court ruled 5-4 to uphold a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit against the agent, Jesus Mesa, who shot 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca in the face in the 2010 incident. The family sued in federal court seeking monetary damages, accusing Mesa of violating the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on unjustified deadly force and the Fifth Amendment right to due process.

The court, with the five conservative justices in the majority, refused to allow people who are not in the US at the time of a cross-border incident to file civil rights lawsuits in federal court.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, said the case presented “foreign relations and national security implications” and noted that Congress should decide whether such lawsuits can be permitted, backing the position taken by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The incident took place in June 2010 on the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Mesa did not face criminal charges, though Mexico condemned the shooting. The family also sued the federal government over the shooting but that was dismissed early in the litigation.

The ruling was issued at a time of high tensions involving the southern border, where Trump is pursuing construction of a wall separating the US and Mexico.

The dispute hinged on whether the family, despite Hernandez having died on Mexican soil, could seek monetary damages against what they call a “rogue” agent for alleged civil rights violations.

‘Awful decision’

Civil rights lawyers and immigration lawyers slammed the decision, saying it was a “blow to the system of checks and balances”. 

The decision “leaves us all vulnerable to the overwhelming power of the federal government, whether it’s the president who has xenophobic agenda or an officer with a gun in his hand,” tweeted civil rights lawyer Cecilia Wang following the Supreme Court decision. 

Charanya Krishnaswami, the Americas Advocacy Director for Amnesty International, called the decision “awful”. 

“An awful decision which places access to justice our of reach for victims of Border Patrol’s many, many abuses. Heartbroken for Sergio Hernandez’s family,” Krishnaswami tweeted. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies