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Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Nixes Provision that Expedites Deportation of Violent Criminals

Judge Neil Gorsuch is sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, April 10, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The Supreme Court said Tuesday that a provision of federal law intended to expedite the deportation of violent criminals was “too vague” to enforce.

Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote in the 5–4 decision, siding with the court’s liberal justices on the question of whether the “crime of violence” standard, which formerly qualified an offending immigrant for deportation, could be constitutionally enforced.

The court concurred with a federal appeals court in San Francisco, which previously held that the provision was too vague to be enforced.

Both the Trump administration and the Obama administration had defended the “crime of violence” standard in court as a lawful measure that bolstered public safety.

The Supreme Court initially took up the case in January of last year, but deadlocked 4–4 due to the vacancy resulting from Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. After Gorsuch joined the the high court, it reopened the case, which involved James Dimaya, a Phillipines native who arrived in the U.S. legally in 1992. The government began deportation proceedings against Dimaya after he was convicted of two counts of burglary on the grounds that he committed a “crime of violence.”

In appealing the lower court’s initial decision to qualify his crimes as grounds for deportation, Dimaya’s defense attorneys cited a 2015 Scalia decision that nixed a provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act as unconstitutionally vague.

Gorsuch’s vote was expected after he appeared to side with Scalia’s interpretation of immigration law during oral arguments.

“Even when it’s going to put people in prison and deprive them of liberty and result in deportation, we shouldn’t expect Congress to be able to specify those who are captured by its laws?” Gorsuch asked Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler during oral arguments.

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