The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that part of a federal law which requires the deportation of certain criminal aliens was too vague, as Justice Neal Gorsuch, nominated to the Court by President Donald Trump, joined with the four more liberal justices to provide the majority opinion, upholding a ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the process.
“Vague laws invite arbitrary power,” Gorsuch wrote in his own concurring opinion. “The law before us today is such a law.”
“In my judgment, the Constitution demands more,” Gorsuch added, as the Supreme Court invalidated part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, urging Congress to better define what crimes should demand that a non-citizen be deported.
Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan emphasized that vagueness, saying it gives too much discretion to deportation decisions.
“Does car burglary qualify as a violent felony under §16(b)? Some courts say yes, another says no,” Kagan wrote.
“What of statutory rape? Once again, the Circuits part ways. How about evading arrest? The decisions point in different directions. Residential trespass? The same is true,” Kagan added.
At issue was the conduct of James Dimaya, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, who had been convicted twice of first-degree burglary in California.
On the basis of those convictions, federal authorities sought to deport Dimaya, arguing his status as an ‘aggravated felon’ made him subject to deportation proceedings.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had also held that federal law was “unconstitutionally vague” on whether Dimaya should be subjected to such proceedings, a point which Gorsuch emphasized today.
“Just take the crime at issue in this case, California burglary, which applies to everyone from armed home intruders to door-to-door salesmen peddling shady products,” Gorsuch wrote.
“How, on that vast spectrum, is anyone supposed to locate the ordinary case and say whether it includes a substantial risk of physical force?”
The majority decision also echoed the words of the late Justice Antonin Scalia – who was ultimately replaced by Gorsuch – as back in 2015, Scalia wrote that the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 was also “unconstitutionally vague.”
The ruling was a defeat for the Trump Administration, though it certainly reinforces the President’s recent calls for the Congress to update federal immigration laws, which Mr. Trump argues make it difficult to deport people from the United States.
And the President made that clear hours later in a pair of tweets: