How SCOTUS Protects Bad Federal Officers

Recent Supreme Court rulings have rendered it almost impossible to sue federal officers for violating constitutional rights. The Court now considers a fresh case. Boule v. EgbertThis could be a continuation of this sad trend.

Robert Boule owns a bed and breakfast in Washington, near the Canadian border. Erik Egbert, Border Patrol agent, sought to ask Boule’s guest, a Turkish citizen, his immigration status. Boule instructed the agent to vacate his home. Egbert, who refused to leave Boule’s property, allegedly shoved Boule on top of a car, pushing him down, and inflicting a shoulder injury. Boule complained about Egbert to his superiors. Egbert then allegedly shoved Boule against a car and pushed him to the ground, injuring his shoulder. The agent then allegedly asked the IRS for an investigation of Boule.

Boule sued Egbert in federal court under Bivens v. six unnamed agents of the Federal Bureau of NarcoticsThe Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling in which it ruled that federal officials can be civilly held liable for violations of constitutional rights. The Court’s interpretation of the case has been somewhat narrower. Bivens to the point of practically overruling it.

The 2017 case Ziglar v. AbbasiThe justices, for instance, stated that when an individual is a Bivens claim arises in a context that is “different in a meaningful way from previous Bivens cases decided by this Court,” the presiding judge must search for any “special factors counselling hesitation” and toss the case if he finds them. If we are unable to apply, then the judge may pause. Bivens in a new context or to a new class of defendants,” the Court emphasized in the 2020 case Hernandez v. MesaWe reject your request.

Boule sued Egbert, claiming that he had violated the Fourth Amendment by refusing Boule to leave Boule’s property and using force against Boule and violating the First Amendment for retaliating against Boule’s constitutionally-protected criticism of his agent’s actions. Boule prevailed at the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit. It ruled any hesitation about letting it. Bivens claim proceed was “outweighed by compelling interests in favor of protecting United States citizens from unlawful activity by federal agents.”

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This decision is being reviewed by the Supreme Court, as well as its hostility towards new recognition. Bivens claims does not bode well for Boule, or anyone else interested in seeing rogue federal officers held civilly accountable. The Supreme Court is being undermined, as Don Willett of the 5th Circuit lamented in an identical case in 2021. Bivens that “redress for a federal officer’s unconstitutional acts is either extremely limited or wholly nonexistent, allowing federal officials to operate in something resembling a Constitution-free zone.”