WASHINGTON/EAGLE PASS, Texas: The US Supreme Court on Monday (Jan 22) agreed to temporarily let US Border Patrol agents cut or remove razor-wire fencing that Texas officials placed along part of the Republican-governed state’s border with Mexico to deter illegal border crossings.
The justices, in a 5-4 decision, granted a request by President Joe Biden’s administration to pause a lower court’s ruling that temporarily blocked federal agents from disturbing the fencing while litigation over the issue proceeds.
Two conservative members of the court – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett – joined the three liberal justices in the majority, with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh dissenting.
The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued the disputed interim ruling, is set to hear arguments on Feb. 7 over whether Border Patrol agents violated Texas law by cutting the razor-wire barrier.
The fencing at issue in the dispute was installed on private property along the Rio Grande River by the Texas National Guard as part of what was called Operation Lone Star, launched by Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott in 2021 to deter illegal border crossings.
Texas sued the administration in October 2023 over what it said was an intensified practice by US Customs and Border Protection agents of cutting, destroying or otherwise damaging fencing that the state had strategically placed on private land with the permission of landowners.
US District Judge Alia Moses, while criticising the Biden administration for its “utter failure” to prevent unlawful entries into the United States, ruled in November that the legal claims made by Texas could not overcome the federal government’s sovereign immunity in the case. Such immunity protects the federal government from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution.