U.S. Supreme Court takes up Mexican border shooting dispute

Credit: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON, May 28 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to decide whether the family of a Mexican teenager fatally shot while on Mexican soil by a U.S. Border Patrol agent who fired from across the border in Texas can pursue a civil rights lawsuit in American courts.

It marks the second time the Supreme Court will consider the legal dispute involving Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, who was 15 when he was slain in 2010 along the U.S.-Mexico border - a case that now will be decided during heightened U.S. tensions with Mexico over President Donald Trump's border policies.

The justices will decide whether to allow the family's civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages from Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa to proceed.

The court previously ruled in the same case in 2017, but did not decide the important legal question of whether Hernandez's family could sue for a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which bars unjustified deadly force. The lawsuit also states that Hernandez's right to due process under the Constitution's Fifth Amendment was violated.

The justices instead threw out a ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had barred the lawsuit and asked the lower court to reconsider the matter. The 5th Circuit last year again ruled against Hernandez's relatives, prompting them to seek Supreme Court intervention for a second time.

The high court's action in this case likely will affect a similar case in which Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz fatally shot Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16-year-old Mexican citizen, from across the border in Arizona. That case is also pending at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, generally has been reluctant to extend the scope of civil rights protections. For example, it ruled in 2017 that former U.S. officials who served under President George W. Bush could not be sued over the treatment of non-American citizen detainees rounded up in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Trump has pursued hardline immigration policies including advocating a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. His administration urged the Supreme Court not to allow the Hernandez and Rodriguez lawsuits.

The Texas incident took place in June 2010 on the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.

The Border Patrol said at the time Hernandez was pelting U.S. agents with rocks from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande when he was shot. The lawyers for Hernandez's family dispute that account, saying he was playing a game with a group of teenagers in which they would run across a culvert from the Mexican side and touch the U.S. border fence before running back.

The appeals court, in ruling that the lawsuit could not move forward, found that the family could not bring a claim that Hernandez's constitutional rights were violated. The family also sued the federal government but that was dismissed early in the litigation and is not part of the current case.

The FBI said Hernandez was a known immigrant smuggler who had been pressed into service by smuggling gangs, guiding illegal immigrants into the United States.

Mesa did not face criminal charges, though Mexico condemned the shooting.

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(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

((lawrence.hurley@thomsonreuters.com; Twitter: @lawrencehurley; +1 202-809-3080;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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