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Gorsuch sides with liberals in Supreme Court ruling on deportation of violent immigrants

The Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring the deportation of noncitizens convicted of aggravated felonies was unconstitutionally vague. Justice Neil Gorsuch sided with the liberal justices in the decision. (Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring the deportation of noncitizens convicted of violent crimes was unconstitutionally vague, after conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch sided with the court’s liberals Tuesday, Reuters reported.

The case, Sessions v. Dimaya, originated with convicted burglar James Garcia Dimaya of California, a permanent resident from the Philippines who was at risk of deportation after his convictions.

What is the law in question?

The Immigration and Nationality Act says that a noncitizen convicted of a “crime of violence” is subject to deportation.

Under the law, a crime of violence includes offenses involving “use or substantial risk of physical force against another person or property.”

Both the Department of Homeland Security and an immigration judge, as well as the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed that Dimaya could be deported because of his two burglary convictions in 2007 and 2009.

Why did they rule against the law?

A similar law, the Armed Career Criminal Act, also had a “violent felony” clause that was similar to the INA’s “aggravated felony” clause.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the ACCA definition of violent felony was too vague. After that, a federal appeals court also ruled the INA provision to be unconstitutionally vague. Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld that ruling in a 5-4 vote.

"The appellate court found that both provisions denied fair notice to defendants and failed to make clear when a risk of violence could be considered substantial,” a summary of the case read.

Gorsuch as the tiebreaker

This case dates back to the Supreme Court’s 2016 term. At that time, the justices were presumed to be deadlocked at 4-4 in the interim between Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and Gorsuch’s confirmation.

“What does that mean?” Gorsuch asked. “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. How, on that vast spectrum, is anyone supposed to locate the ordinary case and say whether it includes substantial risk of physical force? The truth is, no one knows.

“The law’s silence leaves judges to their intuitions and the people to their fate. In my judgment, the Constitution demands more.”

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