President Trump is not pleased that Department of Homeland Security is no longer able to automatically deport people under a vague legal standard.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck a blow against the federal government’s deportation mechanism, invalidating a law used to expel legal immigrants living in the United States.
The court’s 5–4 decision will hinder the Trump administration’s ability to deport non-citizens, a victory for immigration advocates who’ve long charged that the law in question violates the Constitution.
Neil Gorsuch, the justice named to the high court by Trump, sided with the Supreme Court’s liberals by casting a decisive fifth vote to protect immigrants from deportation.
On April 17, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to void certain aspects of the aggravated felony ground of deportability, in a case known as Sessions v. Dimaya, No. 15-1498.
After the Supreme Court held the definition of a ‘violent felony’ was unconstitutionally vague in one law, an immigrant challenged similar language that defined his burglary conviction as a crime of violence under immigration law.
“Today’s ruling significantly undermines DHS’s efforts to remove aliens convicted of certain violent crimes, including sexual assault, kidnapping, and burglary, from the United States,” said U.S. Department of Homeland Security Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton. “By preventing the federal government from removing known criminal aliens, it allows our nation to be a safe haven for criminals and makes us more vulnerable as a result.”
“The Secretary has met with hundreds of members of Congress over the last few months to implore them to take action on passing legislation to close public safety loopholes, such as these, that encourage illegal immigration and tie the hands of law enforcement,” said Houlton.
The defendant, James Dimaya, was twice convicted of burglary under a sweeping California law that doesn’t even require unlawful entry and is so strangely broad that it could cover dishonest door-to-door salesmen.
Sessions v. Dimaya revolves around a clause buried in the Immigration and Nationality Act that allowed the detention and deportation of any alien convicted of an “aggravated felony,” which includes a “crime of violence.”
At issue was whether the void-for-vagueness doctrine, which is used by courts to strike down criminal laws containing unclear provisions, can be applied in a civil context.
James Dimaya was convicted for burglary under a California law. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held that this conviction constituted a categorical crime of violence as defined under federal law.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Johnson v. United States that the Armed Career Criminal Act’s (ACCA) residual clause definition of a violent felony was unconstitutionally vague.
That language and definition, Dimaya claimed, was of similar construction to the definition of crime of violence under federal law.
Accordingly, on appeal, Dimaya argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson was controlling for crimes defined as crimes of violence under U.S. immigration law. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
The government appealed that decision first in the the court’s October 2016 term on January 17, 2017.
On June 26, 2017, at the end of the court’s 2016 term, the court announced that the case would be restored to the calendar for the 2017 term. Reargument in the case was held on October 2, 2017.
After oral argument in Dimaya’s appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Johnson v. United States that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) was unconstitutionally vague.
ACCA’s residual clause provided that anyone who committed a crime punishable by at least one year in prison and that otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another was guilty of a violent felony under the Act.
In striking the residual clause, the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, held that “by combining indeterminacy about how to measure the risk posed by a crime with indeterminacy about how much risk it takes for the crime to qualify as a violent felony, the residual clause produces more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates … this Court’s repeated attempts and repeated failures to craft a principled and objective standard out of the residual clause confirm its hopeless indeterminacy.”
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the petitioner, challenged the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ holding that the statutory definition for crime of violence is unconstitutionally vague. She was replaced as the named petitioner by Jeff Sessions upon his confirmation as attorney general.
Gorsuch broke a tie in Dimaya’s favor, joining Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan in striking down the law.
The arguments in the case were recorded and made available on YouTube, with some humorous imagery due to the court’s ban on cameras:
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