(CNN) — The Supreme Court said Tuesday that the parents of a Mexican youth who was shot to death in Mexico by a US Border Patrol agent standing on American soil cannot try to sue the agent in US courts for damages.
The ruling is a win for the agent and the United States government, who argued the case should not be allowed to go forward. The decision will make it harder for individuals to sue federal officers when their constitutional rights are violated.
The 5-4 ruling came down along familiar ideological lines, with the Court’s five conservative justices siding with the government and its four liberal justices dissenting.
In 2010, Sergio Hernandez, a 15-year-old Mexican citizen, was with friends on a cement culvert that separates El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The international border runs down the middle of the culvert.
Hernandez’s parents say their son and the others were playing a game: crossing the border, touching a fence and then running back to Mexican soil. They accused Jesus Mesa Jr., the Border Patrol agent, of arriving on the scene and fatally shooting their son while Mesa was standing on US soil.
They wanted to sue Mesa for violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendment.
According to the government, Mesa resorted to force only after Hernandez refused to follow commands to stop throwing rocks.
The Justice Department declined to bring a criminal charge against Mesa in 2012 and it supported the agent in court, arguing that the family cannot come to the US courts and sue for damages.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco urged the justices in a court brief that “imposing a damages remedy on aliens injured abroad by US government officials would implicate foreign-policy considerations that are committed to the political branches” and would inject the courts into sensitive matters of international diplomacy that would “risk undermining the government’s ability to speak with one voice in international affairs.”
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