The Trump administration has been wielding a heavy sword against immigrants, documented and undocumented, since taking office. In its ruling today, the Supreme Court delivered a blow to these policies by ruling a deportation clause unconstitutionally vague. While this only directly impacts legal permanent residents convicted of crimes immediately, in the long run it could signal that even with Trump's conservative nominee Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the Court is erring on the side of due process and the wide net being cast by ICE for deportations is up for challenge.
The court, in a 5-4 ruling in which President Donald Trump’s conservative appointee Neil Gorsuch joined the four liberal justices, invalidated the provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act and sided with convicted California burglar James Garcia Dimaya, a legal immigrant from the Philippines.
The ruling, written by liberal Justice Elena Kagan, was a setback for the administration, which had defended the provision during arguments in the case in October.
Federal authorities ordered Dimaya deported after he was convicted in two California home burglaries, in 2007 and 2009, though neither crime involved violence.
Kagan said the disputed provision’s ambiguity had created confusion in lower courts. “Does car burglary qualify as a violent felony?” Kagan wrote. “Some courts say yes, another says no.” Kagan mentioned other examples including rape, evading arrest and trespassing in which courts have also been divided.
Gorsuch, in a concurring opinion, write 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.
“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,” Gorsuch added.