SCOTUS Leans Left


The Supreme Court today issued an opinion in the case of Sessions, Attorney General v. Dimaya, 15-1498. The Court initially heard arguments for this case back in January 2017. The ruling was a 5-4 split with all four of the liberal justices in the majority, conservative justices in the dissent.  The decision in todays case turned on a 2015 decision form the court that struck down a similarly worded part of another federal law that imposes longer prison sentences on repeat criminals. Previously immigration officers had relied upon a list of crimes that made an individual eligible for deportation. The category in Dimaya's case was crime “that, by its very nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force…may be used in the course of committing the offense”. This particular provision was struck down by the federal appeals court in San Francisco, and affirmed by the Supreme Court as Constitutionally vague. 

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement after the ruling that it “significantly undermines” its “efforts to remove aliens convicted of certain violent crimes". The Court's decision in no way impacts the ability for the government to deport individuals who have committed a clearly violent crimes, including murder, rape, drug trafficking, and other serious offenses. The category of crimes impacted are limited to those which carry a prison term of more than a year, but do not otherwise fit in a long list of "aggravated felonies" that can lead to deportation. 

The Court's decision today does come as a loss for the President and his administration who have both pressed stricter enforcement of immigration law. What is further notable about this case is that it was Trump's own appointed justice, Neil Gorsuch, who was the deciding vote. Although Gorsuch did not sign on to the entirety of Justice Kagan's opinion, he did state; “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". This is the first case in which Gorsuch has split from the Trump administrations rhetoric, a topic that was highly discussed during his confirmation process. Although the Justice stated he would always interpret the law through an unbiased lens, Trump relied heavily on Gorsuch's conservative past when selecting him as the nominee to replace Scalia. This was in part motivated by the President's belief that should an abortion case come before the Court, Gorsuch would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. The decision today indicates that unlike Trump desired, Gorsuch is going to cite the Constitution in his opinions and not the day to day rhetoric of the Administration.