The undemocratically elected Supreme Court has yet again ruled against the people. With only three justices dissenting, the court ruled June 8 that federal agents could not be sued in federal court for damages. This stems from a case in which a private citizen, Robert Boule, sued Border Patrol agent Erik Egbert for violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights after being the victim of excessive force and illegal retaliation at the hands of the agent. This ruling gives federal agents a license to brutalize and retaliate against anyone who dares speak up and demand justice, without repercussions.
Egbert v Boule
According to court documents, the U.S. citizen business owner and the Border Patrol agent had a history of working together. Boule was a confidential informant to the CBP and no friend of undocumented people:
“Boule at times helped federal agents identify and apprehend persons engaged in unlawful cross-border activity on or near his property. Boule also would provide transportation and … would agree to help illegal border crossers enter or exit the United States, only to later call federal agents to report the unlawful activity.”
In 2014, Boule informed Egbert about a suspected illegal border crosser who was staying at Boule’s bed and breakfast inn in Blaine, Washington near the U.S.-Canada border. Egbert followed Boule’s vehicle to the inn, where Boule asked him to leave. Egbert refused, became violent, and threw Boule first against the vehicle and then to the ground.
Boule’s attorney pointed to a 1971 decision called “Bivens” that held that a private individual could sue a federal officer for damages if fundamental rights were violated. In recent years, the right-wing Supreme Court has been willfully quiet, not extending the “Bivens” ruling to any others. Boule’s attorney argued, “Awarding individual damages for federal officer misconduct has long-standing roots dating back to the founding and remains appropriate, albeit more limited, today.”
The Border Patrol agent’s counter argument lies in the idea that only Congress has the power to create “damage actions” and that the Judicial branch “isn’t well suited to assess the systemic costs and benefits of a new damages action.”
The Biden administration sided with Egbert and the ruling that Bivens should not be extended to cover the case at hand. Writing for the majority, Clarence Thomas said that the lower courts got it wrong when finding that Boule could pursue Fourth Amendment claims under the “Bivens” ruling.
“A plaintiff can turn practically any adverse action into grounds for a retaliation claim,” Thomas wrote, adding that a “frivolous retaliation claim” could set off an expansive discovery process in which “there is often no clear end to the relevant evidence.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent wrote, “Today’s decision does not overrule Bivens. It nevertheless contravenes precedent and will strip many more individuals who suffer injuries at the hands of other federal officers, and whose circumstances are materially indistinguishable from those in Bivens, of an important remedy.” Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined her as the only dissenters.
This proves once again that relying on a system the ruling class has set up to oppress us is like relying on snake oil salesmen to remedy our ills. Many community organizations fighting for immigrant rights know this first-hand. Their leaders, members and allies have received vicious threats and have been on the receiving end of excessive force and retaliation prior to this decision.
Liberation News reached out to La Resistencia, a community led organization that has been at the front lines of the battle for human dignity and basic rights for immigrants in Washington state. La Resistencia had this to say regarding the decision:
“The Supreme Court decision making it impossible for our communities to sue Customs and Border Patrol officers every time they try to kill us and abuse us shows that the entire legal structure in this country has been built against us. CBP and ICE are two federal enforcement agencies extremely well funded whose goal is to destroy our communities. They enjoy impunity and a complete lack of accountability as this decision shows. These structures protect each other. We can’t rely on the master’s tools to free us. That’s why we must continue fighting to free our people by organizing and exposing these systems so we can ultimately abolish them.”