The U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday, April 17, that the part of a federal law that allows easier deportation of immigrants was too vague, impeding the Trump administration’s efforts in deporting non-citizens.
Bringing in the decision was Justice Neil Gorsuch — President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointee — who sided with the court’s four liberal justices in a tie-breaking decision involving a legal U.S. resident from the Philippines.
The Tuesday decision in Sessions v. Dimaya involved James Dimaya, a Filipino who came to the U.S. as a legal permanent resident in 1992 when he was 13 years old. Dimaya was convicted of two residential burglary charges in California in 2007 and 2009, and was sentenced to four years in prison in total.
The case was first argued in January 2017 but was deadlocked 4-4 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. It was argued again in October with Gorsuch.
The government sought Dimaya’s deportation through a clause in the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows the detention and deportation of non-citizens convicted of an “aggravated felony.” Such felonies include “crime of violence” or any felony 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.”
But the federal appeals court in San Francisco said that the provision was unconstitutionally vague — an opinion affirmed by the Tuesday Supreme Court ruling.
In her opinion, Justice Elena Kagan cited the 2015 Johnson v. United States ruling written by Scalia that said a similar criminal statute was unconstitutionally vague.
“We can as well repeat here what we asked in Johnson,” said Kagan. “How does one go about divining the conduct entailed in a crime’s ordinary case? Statistical analyses? Surveys? Experts? Google? Gut instinct?”
Commenting on the lower courts’ inability to be consistent with immigration law, Kagan asked if car burglary would qualify as a violent felony.
“Some courts say yes, another says no,” said Kagan.
She added, “What of statutory rape? Once again, the Circuit parts ways. How about evading arrest? The decisions point in different directions. Residential trespass? The same is true.”
Kagan’s opinion was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.
While Gorsuch did not join all of Kagan’s opinion, he agreed with the decision.
“Vague laws invite arbitrary power,” wrote Gorsuch. “Today’s vague laws may not be as invidious, but they can invite the exercise of arbitrary power all the same — by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up.”
The court’s 5-4 decision was a setback for the Trump administration which has long called for tighter immigration laws and has favored deportation.
Following the decision, Trump was quick to voice his displeasure in a two part tweet.
“Today’s Court decision means that Congress must close loopholes that block the removal of dangerous criminal aliens, including aggravated felons,” tweeted Trump.
He continued, “This is a public safety crisis that can only be fixed by Congress — House and Senate must quickly pass a legislative fix to ensure violent criminal aliens can be removed from our society. Keep America Safe!”
Immigration and Customs enforcement (ICE) Deputy Director Tom Homan said he too was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision.
“As a law enforcement agency, ICE will certainly abide by this decision; however, it will have an adverse impact on our ability to establish that aliens convicted of certain violent crimes — such as sexual offenses, kidnapping, and burglary — are removable from the United States and ineligible for certain immigration benefits,” said Homan.
“It is yet another example of the need for Congress to urgently close the loopholes that allow criminal aliens to avoid removal and remain in the United States,” he added.
Dissenters of the decision were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)