Supreme Court rules private lawsuits against federal agents violating first amendment rights not allowed

Jul 1, 2022

Private lawsuits against federal agents who violate a person’s First Amendment rights are not allowed under the Supreme Court’s longstanding Bivens cases, the Court ruled in June.

In Egbert v. Boule, Justice Clarence Thomas authored an opinion that a bed-and-breakfast inn owner could not sue a Customs and Border Patrol agent for throwing him against a car and then to the ground during the agent’s entry onto the inn property to investigate a possible illegal alien.

Boule sued the agent for violations of Fourth Amendment and First Amendment rights after his car tag “SMUGLER” was reported to border agents for possible enforcement actions. Media organizations, including the National Newspaper Association, had filed friend of the court briefs expressing concern about similar actions by federal agents against newsgatherers.

Thomas said the court would not permit the lawsuits because of possible interference with border patrol actions and because Congress had the power to grant such lawsuits if it so wished.