By Alberto Garcia
The Supreme Court ruled that the parents of a Mexican boy shot to death from across the border by a US Border Patrol agent cannot sue for wrongful death.
15-year-old Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca was killed in 2010 as he and other boys ran back and forth across the dry water canal that forms the US-Mexico border between Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.
The boys had just run crossed into the US side of the border when Border Patrol agents confronted them. The agents apprehended one of the boys as the others turned back toward Mexico.
That’s when Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa Jr. fired at least two rounds toward the boys, hitting Hernandez Guereca in the head and killing him.
At the time the shooting, Mesa claimed that the boy was throwing rocks at him and he fire to defend themselves.
But during an investigation into the case, cellphone video footage taken by a witness showed that the boys were running away from the agents when the shots were fired.
The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that foreign nationals are not protected by U.S. federal laws, which can only be applied domestically. The Court split 5 to 4 down ideological lines, with the Republican-appointed Justices voting to uphold the ruling, and the four Justices appointed by Democrats voting to overturn.
“A crossborder shooting affects the interests of two countries and, as happened here, may lead to disagreement,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Court’s majority opinion. “It is not for this Court to arbitrate between the United States and Mexico, which both have legitimate and important interests at stake and have sought to reconcile those interests through diplomacy.”
The dissenting opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg disagreed that the shooting is a case of national security. Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan signed on to the dissent.
“It scarcely makes sense for a remedy trained on deterring rogue officer conduct to turn on the happenstance subsequent to the conduct — a bullet landing in one half of a culvert, not the other,” Justice Ginsburg wrote. “The only salient difference here: the fortuity that the bullet happened to strike Hernández on the Mexican side of the embankment. But Hernández’s location at the precise moment the bullet landed should not matter one whit,” she added.
Another similar case is also pending before the courts.
That case involves a shooting by Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz who shot and killed Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez after the teen threw rocks at the agent from Mexico.
Swarts was found not guilty in two criminal trials over the shooting, but a wrongful death civil case has been on hold in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for years while the Supreme Court decided in the Hernández case.
During that time, the makeup of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has changed since President Trump has appointed 10 of the 29 judges on the court during his time in office.
Although the Court has long been considered the most liberal of all appeals courts, the ideological divide between judges is now a close 16-13 split between liberal-leaning and conservative judges.
That case may now be decided this year and will most likely be dismissed.