Yesterday, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) invalidated a section of federal law that requires the mandatory deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of some “crimes of violence.” The decision, which was produced by a 5-4 majority, holds that the current law is flawed, unconstitutionally vague, and has raised questions about variability in interpretations regarding deportable offenses. In particular, the ruling, written by Justice Kagan, said that ambiguity surrounding the crimes of violence provision created confusion in lower courts. “Does car burglary qualify as a violent felony? Kagan wrote. “Some courts say yes, another says no. Kagan mentioned other examples including evading arrest and trespassing in which courts have also been divided. Surprisingly, it was President Trump’s appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, who cast the deciding vote, stating that “vague laws invite arbitrary power.”
While the court’s ruling will not affect a number of serious crimes, including murder, rape, counterfeiting or terrorism offenses, which are specifically listed in the law as grounds for deportation, the decision will likely benefit lawful permanent residents (green card holders) who live in the United States legally but who have committed certain low-level crimes.
The SCOTUS decision is being applauded by immigration attorneys like former AILA Chairman Edward Shulman, Esq., who has been trying for the past 22 years to passionately protect certain categories of immigrants with histories of crimes that meet ambiguous criteria for an “aggravated felony” and do not fall within the law’s vague definition of a “crime of violence” from an automatic sentence of permanent deportation. Shulman explained how he has defended many legal immigrants with minor crimes, such as a drug possession charge, against automatic expulsion and highlighted how voiding certain aspects of the aggravated felony ground of deportability will be helpful for other clients similarly situated.