Justice Neil Gorsuch provided the decisive vote Tuesday in a Supreme Court ruling striking down a key provision that made it easier to deport immigrants convicted of violent crimes, in a blow to the Trump administration. The Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body that applies immigration laws, refused to cancel his expulsion because the relevant law defined burglary as a "crime of violence".
The ruling was a victory for James Garcia Dimaya, whose two burglary convictions were considered violent crimes under a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act - which lists being convicted of "a crime of violence" as one of the types of aggravated felony convictions that can trigger an immigrant's deportation.
It's not clear how widespread the effects of the ruling would be on deportations.
The case, Sessions v. Dimaya, focused on a Filipino with permanent USA residency who had been convicted of burglary.
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After Justice Gorsuch joined the court, the justices heard the case re-argued.
In court, arguing for the Trump administration, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler said that when it comes to deportation, "I think it is important for the court to understand that immigration provisions and grounds for deportation are often written in very broad and general terms and given content by the executive branch in which Congress has vested authority".
The Supreme Court agreed with the 9th circuit.
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Dimaya came to the United States from the Philippines as a legal permanent resident in 1992 at age 13. Conviction for a crime of violence subjects an immigrant to deportation and usually speeds up the process.
In the federal criminal code, a "crime of violence" includes offenses in which force either was used or carried a "substantial risk" that it would be used.
Immigration judges would have allowed Dimaya to be deported, but the federal appeals court in San Francisco struck down the provision as unconstitutionally vague. "The truth is, no one knows", he said.
Only eight justices heard the case last term after Scalia's death, and in late June, the court announced it would re-hear arguments this term, presumably so that Gorsuch could break some kind of a tie. "In my judgment, the Constitution demands more".
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