Hearing the case of a Mexican doctor abducted in Guadalajara to stand trial in Los Angeles, the Supreme Court hinted yesterday that it was likely to throw out his lawsuits and would avoid a broad ruling on the role of U.S. courts in enforcing international law, says the Los Angeles Times. Several justices said they thought Drug Enforcement Administration agents acted legally in 1990 when they arranged to have Dr. Humberto Alvarez Machain abducted in Mexico and brought to the United States. He was tried in the killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar, and acquitted.
The doctor later sued U.S. authorities and Mexican bounty hunters who kidnapped him. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sided with him, calling him a victim of an “arbitrary arrest and detention” in violation of international law.
The justices attacked that conclusion. “He was under indictment by a grand jury,” said Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. It was not arbitrary to seek out and arrest a person who had been indicted, he said. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor also disputed the 9th Circuit’s view that DEA agents had no authority to make arrests abroad. “A DEA agent can very likely enforce the law outside our borders,” she said.
Also yesterday, the Supreme Court said federal agents may stop vehicles that have crossed the U.S. border and disassemble their gas tanks and fuel lines even if there is no reason to believe that they are carrying drugs or other illegal items. The Los Angeles Times says the ruling restores the authority of agents to thoroughly inspect vehicles randomly or on the basis of a hunch. The ruling reinstated the conviction of Manuel Flores-Montano, who was found to have 81 pounds of marijuana hidden in his fuel tank when he crossed the border near San Diego. In an exasperated tone, Rehnquist spoke for a unanimous court in saying agents are free to search travelers and vehicles entering the country. “Time and again, we have stated that searches made at the border, pursuant to the long-standing right of the sovereign to protect itself by stopping and examining persons and property crossing into this country, are reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border,” he said.