Gorsuch, SCOTUS, And A Win for Justice (and us all)

The Supreme Court issued a ruling on a case which, depending on which news outlets you read, is a stunning defeat for Trump on immigration, a betrayal by Gorsuch, a victory for liberals, or some combination of both. I want to challenge those narratives and say that this is a victory for justice, thus a victory for us all. To do this, we will briefly dive into the case and look at what Justice Gorsuch, who is currently my favorite federal judge (yes, I have a favorite federal judge), actually said about the case as he sided, in part, with the more liberal justices.
The case is about a gentleman named James Dimaya was convicted of burglary (first degree residential burglary specifically) under California law. That is not in dispute. He is guilty of this crime. He was convicted of it in both 2007 and 2009.  Mr. Dimaya has been a legal permanent resident in the US since 1992. This is also not at issue. The sentence for the crime was 2 years in prison. This is the basic background of the case necessary to understand what comes next. Under federal law if a non-citizen is convicted of an “aggravated felony”, the individual is subject to removal from the country. The department of Homeland Security decided that in this case Mr. Dimaya was subject to removal due to the fact that this constituted a crime of violence. ” Based on Dimaya’s two first-degree burglary convictions, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) alleged that Dimaya was subject to removal because the crimes for which he was convicted under California law constituted crimes of violence for which the term of imprisonment at least one year. Such a crime constitutes an aggravated felony under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(F), which utilizes the definition of crime of violence provided under 18 U.S.C. § 16.” (quote source). The relevant statute here reads as follows:
“(a) an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or prop­erty of another, or
(b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” (from Cornell University Legal Information Institute).
In a similar case, legally speaking, the vagueness of a law was struck down as well, also by a notably conservative judge whom Gorsuch is in some ways similar to, Antonin Scalia. He said the following: “by combining indeterminacy about how to measure the risk posed by a crime with indeterminacy about how much risk it takes for the crime to qualify as a violent felony, the residual clause produces more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates … this Court’s repeated attempts and repeated failures to craft a principled and objective standard out of the residual clause confirm its hopeless indeterminacy.” (source) All of this led to a decision by the SCOTUS not on whether or not Mr. Dimaya is a violent man, a potentially violent man, or even if he should be in the US at all, but whether or not the clause used here in deportation was unconstitutionally vague. That is the key here. This case was not about Mr. Dimaya or anything he did or did not do, but about laws that are unconstitutionally vague. The decision was that it indeed was unconstitutionally vague. The plurality opinion, joined in part by Justice Gorsuch said, (in part) “In sum, §16(b) has the same wo features that conspire to make unconstitutionally vague. It too requires a court to picture the kind of conduct that the crime involves in the ordinary case, and to judge whether that abstraction presents some not-well-specified-yet-sufficiently-large degree of risk. The result is that §16(b) produces, just as ACCA’s residual clause did, more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates.” 
Why this is a victory for justice though is in the comments made by Justice Gorsuch in his partial concurrence. “Before holding a lawful permanent resident alien like James Dimaya subject to removal for having committed a crime, the Immigration and Nationality Act requires a judge to determine that the ordinary case of the alien’s crime of conviction involves a substantial risk that physical force may be used. But what does that mean? Just take the crime at issue in this case, California burglary, which applies to everyone from armed home intruders to door-to-door salesmen peddling shady products. How, on that vast spectrum, is anyone supposed to locate the ordinary case and say whether it includes a substantial risk of physical force? The truth is, no one knows. The law’s silence leaves judges to their intuitions and the people to their fate. In my judgment, the Constitution demands more.” But wait, that’s not the best part! Justice Gorsuch goes further and says that as grave a penalty as deortation is, the void for vagueness doctrine should not stop there. “But, grave as that penalty may be, I cannot see why we would single it out for special treatment when (again) so many civil laws today impose so many similarly severe sanctions. Why, for example, would due process require Congress to speak more clearly when it seeks to deport a lawfully resident alien than when it wishes to subject a citizen to indefinite civil commitment, strip him of a business license essential to his family’s living, or confiscate his home? I can think of no good answer.”
In plain English, Justice Gorsuch here is challenging the numerous nebulous laws that local, count, state, and federal law makers and agencies pass forcing the courts to interpret that which has no definitive meaning. That’s right, Justice Gorsuch writes that real people, like you and I, should be able to understand the law, and it’s consequences, else it violates the due process clause of the fifth amendment. Imagine, if you will, a land where we all not only can know, but can understand, the laws that the nation passes which we are supposed to follow. Imagine, if you will, a land where the regulatory agencies, (despicable as they are) actually have to write regulation that is clear and concise and not subject to blatant abuse, such as the Clean Water Act. Imagine, if you will, a land where the law actually means what it says. That is what Justice Gorsuch is calling for here, and that is why it is a victory not for the liberals, not for the conservatives, not even for Mr. Dimaya, but for justice.

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