Politics Track

Ethics and the Supreme Court

In our classes, our professor loves to have us read Supreme Court cases. While at first we groan and grumble about the work, we have found that there is so much to be learned about our society through these cases. So, we invite you to do what we do, and examine a few Supreme Court Cases. Down below, we have laid out a few ethical theories and four cases to go with them. Read through the facts of the case, the question at hand, and the ruling of the Court. Think about the ruling in terms of the ethical frameworks. While they all are legally sound, do you feel that these case holdings are ethical? Under the cases we have a discussion board and would love to hear your thoughts surrounding these cases.

There are three commonly used approaches to determining ethics: Utilitarianism, Duty Based Ethics, and Virtue Ethics.

Click on each box for more information on each ethical theory.

Scroll below for examples to see where ethical theories are prevalent in the Supreme Court. 

Hernandez v. Mesa

Facts of the Case

15-year-old Hernandez, a Mexican citizen, was shot by a US border patrol agent while on the Mexican side of the border. Hernandez’s parents filed suit against the officer for violating 4th and 5th Amendment rights, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizures and mandates due process. However, the case was dismissed because Hernandez lacked those rights as a Mexican citizen.
The court determined that the parents were entitled to remedy under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents,
which was a case allowing individuals to sue the government officials for violating constitutional rights.
The case made it up to the 5th Circuit where they ruled that the case was unlike any cases that had been ruled on before therefore denying the claim for remedy under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents. This was because in a previous case the Supreme Court ruled that there needed to be a special factor that made the judiciary better suited than the legislature to recognize the claim.


Should the federal courts recognize a damages claim under Bivens if a federal agent violated Fourth and Fifth amendment rights when there is no other legal remedy?


The court ruled 5-4 that this case was not entitled to remedy under Bivens.. This was because the court found that this case was not within the reach of the court system and that this needed to be left up to the legislature.


Do you think that it is ethical for there to be no remedy for the parents of the victim of a cross border shooting?


Even though there is nothing legally written about this type of situation, is it ethical to allow this case to be dismissed?

This case was seen as the last step in undermining Bivens claims which has been something the court has been working towards. Do you think it is ethical to simply use this case as a way to undermine Bivens, therefore treating this child's death as a means to an end?

Supreme Court Cases

What are your thoughts on these cases? Are they ethically sound? Did the Court mess up? Let us know!