Supreme Court strikes down key deportation provision

Remigio Civitarese
Aprile 17, 2018

The decision is a loss for President Donald Trump's administration, which has emphasized stricter enforcement of immigration law.

The court's 5-4 decision concerns a provision of immigration law that defines a "crime of violence". Conviction for a crime of violence subjects an immigrant to deportation and usually speeds up the process.

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"Vague laws invite arbitrary power", Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion, adding that the American colonies in the 18th century cited vague English law like the crime of treason as among the reasons for the American revolution. Gorsuch wrote that "no one should be surprised that the Constitution looks unkindly on any law so vague that reasonable people can not understand its terms and judges do not know where to begin in applying it". The appeals court based its ruling on a 2015 supreme court decision that struck down a similarly worded part of another federal law that imposes longer prison sentences on repeat criminals.

Immigration officials relied on a section of immigration law that lists crimes that make people eligible for deportation.

Dimaya came to the United States from the Philippines as a legal permanent resident in 1992 at age 13.

After Justice Gorsuch joined the court, the justices heard the case re-argued. After he pleaded no contest to two charges of burglary in California, the government began deportation proceedings against him. The category in which Dimaya's convictions fell is a crime "that, by its very nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force.may be used in the course of committing the offense". The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that the term "aggravated felony" under the Immigration and Nationality Act was too vague. The Supreme Court affirmed that ruling Tuesday.

The case, Sessions v Dimaya, was initially argued in January of 2017 by a court that was short a member because the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat had not yet been filled. Deadlocked 4-4, the justices scheduled a new round of arguments once Gorsuch joined the court.

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