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SCOTUS may rule on constitutionality and immigration laws this session

The highest court in the country will hear a case questioning whether or not the Constitution protects immigrants.

The government often targets noncitizens with a criminal conviction for removal. But when does the government go too far? Does the Constitution protect these residents? The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has refrained from ruling on whether or not the Constitution applies to immigration laws and these types of deportation issues. This session, the highest court in the country may provide some guidance.

One specific case that addresses this question is Sessions v Dimaya. The case specifically addresses whether or not a provision within the Immigration and Nationality Act should be void for vagueness.

What is the Immigration and Nationality Act? This law allows for the deportation of noncitizens who are convicted of “aggravated felonies.” It also applies to lawful permanent residents.

What is the “void for vagueness” doctrine? The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution house the void for vagueness doctrine. Essentially, this doctrine states that laws must clearly explain what types of conduct are punishable. It encourages transparency. A law that is not sufficiently clear or too extensive is a violation of this doctrine.

What exactly is the legal issue in this case? In this case, Mr. Dimaya, the man facing deportation, argues that the definition for the term “aggravated felony” is unconstitutionally vague. The law provides an expansive definition for the term. The definition includes “crimes of violence” and ranges from drug offenses to murder.

The “residual clause” found within this law is at the center of the debate. It states a crime of violence is any “offense that is a felony and that the crime, 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.” In this specific case, the government is attempting to argue that the man’s crime was sufficient to meet this definition. The crime in question involves a non-violent burglary.

What will the court decide? In the past, the court has held that statutory language must provide ordinary people with fair notice for the types of conduct that are punishable. This was the case in 1951 when the court held that the grave nature of deportation calls for fair notice of which crimes trigger removal. However, with a new justice on the bench it is difficult to predict how the court will hold.

This is an important case to watch. It provides guidance as to how future cases dealing with constitutional rights and immigration issues will be decided. A future publication will delve into the final holding.