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Supreme Court, 6-3, Limits Damage Suits Against Federal Agents

A divided Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit against a Border Patrol agent who allegedly assaulted an U.S. citizen on his own property, limiting remedies against federal law-enforcement officers accused of violating constitutional rights. Congress hasn’t authorized such lawsuits, and courts shouldn’t infer they are allowed, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a 6-3 majority. Wednesday’s decision was the latest to retreat from a 1971 precedent known as Bivens that implied a right to sue federal officers for violating the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures, reports the Wall Street Journal. Three liberal justices dissented, saying the ruling would leave people no remedy when federal agents violate their rights. The case involved the Blaine, Wa., Smuggler’s Inn at 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. In 2014, Boule told Border Patrol agent Erik Egbert about a Turkish guest who would be arriving. When Egbert entered Boule’s property to investigate and Boule asked 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.” Boule sued Egbert in 2017. A federal appeals court permitted the case to proceed, prompting Egbert’s Supreme Court appeal. In 1971, the high court implied a right to sue federal agents in a case involving six federal agents who conducted a narcotics raid in Brooklyn, N.Y., without a warrant. The court permitted Webster Bivens, who was handcuffed and strip searched, to sue.

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