Supreme Court to decide whether government agents can avoid accountability
There is a long and ugly history of government officials – especially those carrying badges – abusing their authority and the rights of citizens for the flimsiest of reasons.
Take this example, via the Institute for Justice, which is the object of a legal fight before the U.S. Supreme Court:
Robert Boule owns a small bed and breakfast along the Canadian border in Washington. One day in 2014, he received a visit he wasn’t expecting. Customs and Border Protection agent Erik Egbert followed one of Boule’s guests onto his property. Officer Egbert thought the guest, who had arrived from Turkey, might be in the country illegally, so he began questioning him about his immigration status. Boule twice asked Officer Egbert to leave the property, but instead the agent shoved Boule against his car and then knocked him to the ground, causing back injuries. Following the altercation, it was confirmed that Boule’s guest was in the United States legally, so Officer Egbert left. Later on, when Boule filed a complaint with Egbert’s supervisor, Egbert threatened to retaliate by having the IRS investigate and audit his business.
The newly filed amicus brief argues that Boule should be entitled to sue for damages under what is called a Bivens claim. The name comes from a 1971 Supreme Court case called Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which established a cause of action to receive damages when a federal agent violates an individual’s rights.
An outrage, followed with a lawsuit. Lower courts agreed with the plaintiff – Boule. But the Supreme Court will decide whether there can be any lawsuit at all. The government alleges any limits placed on Border Patrol agents – even those who threaten bystanders with IRS audits and actual physical violence – would harm the agency:
A decision in Boule’s favor would “undercut the ability of Border Patrol agents to fulfill their basic mission of securing the border, enforcing the immigration laws, and protecting national security,” the government wrote in its petition for review, as if immigration officers must reserve the right to assault people and weaponize their power in illegal ways in order to do their jobs effectively.
Remember this when a politician near you endorses the idea of “qualified immunity.” It means giving agents of the state a nearly unlimited ability to violate your constitutional rights.