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On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Hernandez v. Mesa. In 2010, Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, a fifteen-year-old Mexican national, died after being shot near the border between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico by Jesus Mesa, Jr., a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. Hernandez’s parents, who contend that their son was on Mexican soil at the time of the shooting, sued Mesa in federal district court in Texas, alleging violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. After hearing the case en banc, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ultimately ruled in favor of Mesa, concluding that Hernandez could not assert a Fourth Amendment claim and that Mesa was entitled to qualified immunity on the parents’ Fifth Amendment claim.

In granting certiorari, the U.S. Supreme Court directed the parties to address whether Hernandez’s parents could even raise their claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, which, sovereign immunity notwithstanding, recognized an implied right of action for damages against federal officers alleged to have violated a citizen’s constitutional rights. Ultimately, the Court vacated the judgment of the Fifth Circuit and remanded the case. 

In a per curiam opinion, the Court underscored that a Bivens remedy is not available when "special factors counsel[] hesitation in the absence of affirmative action by Congress," and noted that the Court had recently clarified in Ziglar v. Abbasi “what constitutes a special factor counselling hesitation.”  The Fifth Circuit, the Court directed, should on remand resolve in the first instance the extent to which Abbasi may bear on this case. The Court acknowledged that the Fifth Circuit did not address the Bivens issue because that court had concluded that Hernandez lacked any Fourth Amendment rights to assert--but the Supreme Court considered it imprudent to resolve such a consequential question without a resolution of the Bivens issue first. Finally, the Court indicated that the Fifth Circuit had erred in finding qualified immunity for Mesa regardless of any Fifth Amendment violation because the Fifth Circuit had relied on facts about Hernandez’s nationality and ties to the United States that were unknown to Mesa at the time of the shooting.

Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg joined. Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

To discuss the case, we have Steven Giaier, who is Senior Counsel, House Committee on Homeland Security.

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