A Supreme Court case arising from a Border Patrol agent's conduct at an inn near the border of Washington state and Canada has the potential to reshape federal law enforcement officers' immunity from charges of constitutional rights violations, Vox reports. Robert Boule is the owner of the Smuggler's Inn, where in March 2014 he welcomed a guest who had arrived from Turkey and was lawfully present in the U.S. Agent Erik Egbert was suspicious of the guest's immigration status and decided to confront him at Boule's inn. When he drove onto Boule's property to do this, Boule asked him to leave. Egbert did not leave and Boule interposed himself between Egbert and his guest, at which point Egbert is alleged to have grabbed Boule and pushed him to the ground. Later, after Boule complained to Egbert's supervisor, Egbert allegedly retaliated by contacting the IRS and asked them to investigate Boule's tax status. Boule argues that Egbert's assault on him was a violation of his Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure and that the retaliation he experienced afterwards violated his First Amendment right to free speech.
Analysts believe that the Supreme Court will halt Boule's lawsuit by doing away with a precedent that holds that federal law enforcement officers can be held personally liable for constitutional violations. It is unclear what rule of law will be established if the court does so. In the 1971 case Bivens v. SIx Unknown Named Agents, the Supreme Court held that a right to sue federal law enforcement officers for constitutional violations is implicit in the Constitution. Soon after the case was decided, it was weakened by conservative appointees to the court. In Hernandez v. Mesa , the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that a border patrol agent who allegedly shot and killed a child from across the U.S.-Mexico border could not be sued, with the majority stating it was “doubtful that [they] would have reached the same result” if Bivens were “decided today.” In that decision, the Court counseled lower courts to be wary of any Bivens suit that is “different in a meaningful way from previous Bivens cases decided by this Court” In Hernandez, the court majority said that the case of a U.S. law enforcement agent shooting a Mexican child from across the border was something that should be resolved through “diplomatic channels." The majority also stated that national security importance of patrolling the border "provides reason to hesitate before extending Bivens into this field.”