U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch voted with the Democrat-appointed justices in a 5-4 decision in Sessions v. Dimaya holding that a federal law permitting the removal of foreigners guilty of a “crime of violence” is unconstitutionally vague. Among other things, the Court noted that the “ordinary case” of a crime of violence is an excessively speculative thing, and that uncertainty about the level of risk that makes a crime “violent” is fatal. The case involved a permanent resident convicted of the crime of burglary.

Justice Gorsuch concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. Among other things, he agreed with the majority that the Immigration and Nationality Act provision at hand was unconstitutionally vague. He said that in the criminal context, the law generally must afford ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes, and that it was hard to see how the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution might require any less than that in the civil context. With respect to the vagueness of the law in question, he said, “Vague laws invite arbitrary power.” Justice Gorsuch also noted, “The law’s silence leaves judges to their intuitions and the people to their fate. In my judgment, the Constitution demands more.” He said he was persuaded that the “void for vagueness” doctrine “serves as a faithful expression of ancient due process and separation of powers principles the framers recognized as vital to ordered liberty under our Constitution.”

Tyler Q. Houlton, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Press Secretary, said the decision “significantly undermines DHS’s efforts to remove aliens convicted of certain violent crimes,” and that it “allows our nation to be a safe haven for criminals and makes us more vulnerable.” Tom Homan, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Deputy Director, said he was “disappointed” by the decision. “As a law enforcement agency, ICE will certainly abide by this decision,” he said, but “it will have an adverse impact on our ability to establish that aliens convicted of certain violent crimes…are removable from the United States and ineligible for certain immigration benefits.” He said it was “yet another example of the need for Congress to urgently close the loopholes that allow criminal aliens to avoid removal and remain in the United States.”

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