The Supreme Court said Tuesday that part of a federal law that makes it easier to deport immigrants who have been convicted of crimes is too vague to be enforced. The court's 5-4 decision—an unusual alignment in which new Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the four liberal justices—concerns a catchall provision of immigration law that defines what makes a crime violent. Conviction for a crime of violence makes deportation "a virtual certainty" for an immigrant, no matter how long he has lived in the US, wrote Justice Elena Kagan in her opinion for the court. The decision is a loss for President Trump's administration, which has emphasized stricter enforcement of immigration law. With the four other conservative justices in dissent, it was the vote of the Trump appointee that was decisive in striking down the provision at issue, per the AP.
Gorsuch did not join all of Kagan's opinion, but he agreed with her that the law could not be left in place. 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 decision involves James Dimaya, a native of the Philippines who came to the US legally as a 13-year-old in 1992. After he pleaded no contest to burglary charges in California, the government began deportation proceedings, with officials relying on a section of immigration law that lists crimes eligible for deportation. 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 Supreme Court agreed the law is too vague.