BLAINE, Wash. - A Whatcom County man is at the center of a recent United States Supreme Court ruling that may now limit a U.S. citizen’s ability to sue federal law enforcement officers for violating Constitutional rights.
In 2014, a U.S. Border Patrol agent allegedly assaulted the owner of Smuggler's Inn bed and breakfast in Blaine while trying to determine if one of the guests entered the country legally. The business owner sued, alleging civil rights violations. But this week, the court sided with the officer.
"Every federal officer is now immune from personal liability for violating the Constitutional rights of citizens of the United States," said attorney Greg Boos.
Boos said he is disappointed with the ruling and worries how consequences may reach far beyond the inn on the Canadian border.
"It’s not just Mr. [Robert] Boule who is in the sights of rogue border patrol agents anymore," said Boos. "It is the entire United States population."
This week, the court halted Boule's efforts to sue the border agent for allegedly using excessive force and violating his civil rights. The court’s majority stopped short of overruling precedent, adding that Congress should instead legislate how and when citizens can sue.
"There is a track record of abuses at the border," said John Midgley from ACLU of Washington. "Unfortunately, this makes it much harder to hold people accountable."
National security is also one of several other arguments that swayed six justices to side with the agent, whereas three justices dissented. The opposition insisted the ruling leaves citizens with no meaningful recourse should agents violate civil liberties.
Border Patrol agents often work well beyond political boundaries, pushing 100 miles into America’s interior. The agency enjoys police powers that local law enforcement does not.
The court’s ruling worries civil rights advocates who say those who worry their rights have been violated are left filing complaints with the agency and without a chance to argue in court.
"It’s scary that people who have that kind of power," said Midgley.