The Supreme Court declared a clause in federal law, requiring the deportation of immigrants convicted of a “crime of violence,” unconstitutionally vague Tuesday.
It’s a blow to the Trump Justice Department, and came at the hands, ironically of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, who sided with the court’s liberals in a 5-4 decision
Gorsuch ruled with the court’s four liberal justices in favor of the immigrant, James Garcia Dimaya, who argued that his convictions on two burglary charges did not represent a violent crime.
The Justice Department argued his first-degree burglary conviction constituted a crime of violence, which is an aggravated felony that results in deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
However, the court said Tuesday that the law’s definition of a crime of violence is too vague.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion for a five-member majority.
From The Daily Caller:
At issue in the case was a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that permits the deportation of any alien convicted of an aggravated felony. The law lists a number of convictions that qualify as “aggravated felonies,” then includes a catchall provision for “any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”
James Dimaya, a lawful permanent resident, was slated for deportation to the Philippines following two convictions for first-degree burglaries. An immigration judge ordered his removal under the INA’s catchall provision, as first-degree burglary does not appear on the list of qualifying offenses. In turn, Dimaya challenged the provision, arguing it is unconstitutionally vague.
In a 2015 decision called Johnson v. U.S., the high court struck down as unlawfully vague a section of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) that defined a “violent felony” as, among other things, “conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” Since then, litigants have brought a number of vagueness challenges to similar provisions of federal law.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the Johnson decision.
Dimaya argued the catchall section of the INA was substantially similar to the statute the court overturned in Johnson. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, prompting the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) appeal to the Supreme Court. The DOJ argued the 9th Circuit’s review of the statute was excessive, since civil laws are only considered vague if they are “unintelligible.” Deportation proceedings are civil, not criminal matters.
In her opinion for the court, Kagan rejected that argument, finding the grave nature of deportation warrants heavy judicial scrutiny. She then explained the INA’s catchall provision has precisely the same elements as the unconstitutionally vague section of the ACCA, minor linguistic differences notwithstanding.
“Johnson is a straightforward decision, with equally straightforward application here,” she wrote, elsewhere noting the statute “invited arbitrary enforcement, and failed to provide fair notice.”
Gorsuch wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment, in which he argued vagueness challenges to civil laws should be treated as seriously as challenges to criminal laws. Many civil penalties — and not just deportation — are in his view so sweeping that courts should police aggressively for vagueness, and abandon the “unintelligible” standard currently in use.
“Grave as that penalty may be, I cannot see why we would single it out for special treatment when (again) so many civil laws today impose so many similarly severe sanctions,” he wrote. Such sanctions include “confiscatory rather than compensatory fines, forfeiture provisions that allow homes to be taken, remedies that strip persons of their professional licenses and livelihoods, and the power to commit persons against their will indefinitely.”
His opinion largely tracks the growing distrust in conservative legal circles of draconian penalties assessed through administrative processes, and is part of a growing campaign to challenge economic regulations on vagueness grounds.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the primary dissent, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.
The Justice Department said Congress should quickly amend the INA to ensure a wider range of criminal convictions qualify for deportation.
“We call on Congress to close criminal alien loopholes to ensure that criminal aliens who commit those crimes—for example, burglary in many states, drug trafficking in Florida, and even sexual abuse of a minor in New Jersey—are not able to avoid the consequences that should come with breaking our nation’s laws,” Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said after the ruling.
If you read my articles regularly you will all remember when I said: the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to fill the empty Supreme Court spot. Was a master class move and only time will tell how big help it would be in the future!
Well, it seems I was right only time will tell!
Alex D is a conservative journalist, who covers all issues of importance for conservatives. He writes for Supreme Insider, Red State Nation, Defiant America, and Right Journalism. He brings attention and insight from what happens in the White House to the streets of American towns, because it all has an impact on our future, and the country left for our children. Exposing the truth is his ultimate goal, mixed with wit where it’s appropriate, and feels that journalism shouldn’t be censored. Join him & let’s spread the good word!