Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch surprised SCOTUS watchers today as he sided with the liberal justices on the court to strike down part of a federal law that made it easier to deport illegal immigrants.
Gorsuch called the clause in the federal law too vague to be enforced writing that they "can invite the exercise of arbitrary power ... by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up. The law before us today is such a law."
The decision came as a result of the case of James Dimaya, who came to the United States legally as a child in 1992. After he plead no contest to a pair of burglary charges in California, the federal government began deportation proceedings, calling the burglaries a "crime of violence." Crimes of violence automatically subject the perpetrator to deportation, no matter how long they may have resided in the U.S.
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."
In his decision, Gorsuch wrote that, "no one should be surprised that the Constitution looks unkindly on any law so vague that reasonable people cannot understand its terms and judges do not know where to begin in applying it."
The majority opinion was written by Justice Elena Kagan who wrote that vagueness in the law isn't fair to everyday people.
"The void-for-vagueness doctrine, as we have called it, guarantees that ordinary people have 'fair notice' of the conduct a statute proscribes," Kagan wrote. "And the doctrine guards against arbitrary or discriminatory law enforcement by insisting that a statute provide standards to govern the actions of police officers, prosecutors, juries and judges."
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