The Fourth Amendment Applies More Broadly than the Government is Making Out
By Danielle Kerem
Restore the Fourth filed an amicus brief today at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case, Araceli Rodriguez v. Lonnie Swartz, concerns the shooting death of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez and raises critical Fourth Amendment questions with potentially significant consequences for American law enforcement conduct both abroad and at home.
On October 10, 2012, Jose Antonio was gunned down by United States Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz while walking home following a game of basketball in his Nogales, Mexico neighborhood. As he walked along a public street parallel to the U.S.-Mexico border, the teenager was shot in the back approximately 10 times by agent Swartz, who fired multiple rounds through the border fence from his position on American soil. Jose Antonio bled to death a short time later.
In July 2014, Jose Antonio’s mother – Araceli Rodriguez – filed a civil lawsuit in Arizona against the agent responsible for his death, alleging that Swartz had violated her son’s Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive and unjustified force. In response, Swartz’s legal team moved for dismissal of the case on the grounds that Jose Antonio was a Mexican citizen killed on Mexican territory and consequently not protected by the U.S. Constitution.
The court, however, partially denied the defendant’s motion, instead affirming that “under the facts alleged in this case, the Mexican national may avail himself to the protections of the Fourth Amendment and that the agent may not assert qualified immunity.” In July 2015, Swartz appealed the district court’s decision. In February 2016, the United States filed an amicus brief objecting to the district court’s finding that Jose Antonio benefited from Fourth Amendment protections and supporting reversal of the ruling. The Department of Justice contended that the “Fourth Amendment does not extend extraterritorially to aliens without significant voluntary connections to the United States,” grounding this interpretation in the 1990 United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez Supreme Court decision.
In today’s amicus brief, Restore the Fourth – through our counsel at Subbaraman PLLC and the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic – advances two core arguments to address the Government’s misrepresentation of Fourth Amendment protections as well as misreading of the relevant case law. First, we contend that the Fourth Amendment, at a minimum, requires government searches and seizures of anyone to be reasonable. Second, we insist that the “substantial and voluntary connections” test articulated in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez determines what constitutes a reasonable search or seizure only when this test can be administered:
Restore the Fourth files this brief in order to address the United States’s misreading of Verdugo-Urquidez. The plurality did not erase the Fourth Amendment’s core demand that all government searches and seizures be “reasonable”—even extraterritorial searches and seizures of aliens. See Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008). Rather, the plurality merely established that the Fourth Amendment affords the government reasonable latitude when it is capable of reviewing an alien’s connections with the United States before searching or seizing him. Here, by contrast, Agent Swartz killed J.A. without any such review. His actions were thus patently unreasonable, even if one were to conclude that J.A. lacked substantial voluntary connections to the United States.
According to Alex Marthews, National Chair of Restore The Fourth, “since the misinterpreted Verdugo-Urquidez decision in 1990, we have built new and oppressive structures of immigration control, foreign policy and mass surveillance on the basis of being able to ignore some people’s unalienable rights, even in times of peace. The Fourth Amendment cannot be twisted to support this. Jose Antonio’s family, and every family affected by U.S. state power, deserve better.”