Supreme Court Applies Johnson v. US to Immigration Sanctions - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1171 Words
Date:  2023-01-01


In the case of "Sessions v. Dimaya," the Supreme Court applied a vague analysis as the next logical course of action outlined in "Johnson v. United States" to a provision of the criminal code that is integrated into the Immigration and Nationality Act (Harvard Law Review 367). The Immigration and National Act (NIA) contemplates severe sanctions such as deportation that it rightfully applied on Johnson. The court, however, should regulate the extension to which Johnson applies to the other circumstances. Therefore, the court needs to import the distinctions it had already drawn in the procedural due process realm in circumstances where the consequences are severe. This application will help the Court to create a determinate standard which it can use to pass judgement when applying Johnson is suitable and therefore avoid infringing on the civil code without cause.

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James Garcia Dimaya was a native citizen of Philipines who was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident in 1992. Dimaya was later convicted in 2007 and 2009 for first-degree residential burglary under California Penal Code. Both convictions led to Demaya being sentenced to two years imprisonment. According to the NIA, a felon who is a non-citizen and has been convicted of an aggravated felony is subject to deportation. The NIA defines aggravated felony as a crime of violence, which includes the use, or substantial risk of physical force against another person or property (Harvard Law Review 367).

Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) afterwards introduced deportation proceedings against Dimaya as they claimed that his convictions of burglary consisted of violence under the Act. The judge maintained that the Demaya was deportable since burglary constituted a crime of violence as it contains a risk of physical violence. The judge ordered that Demaya was to be deported and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) agreed (Harvard Law Review 367).

Dimaya then appealed to the Ninth Circuit and argued that the BIA had made a mistake in classifying the California burglary as a crime of violence. Even though his case was pending, the Supreme Court opted to apply Johnson. Using Johnson, the court addresses the definition provided by the Armed Career Criminal Act, which also included a residual clause that encompassed every crime that "otherwise comprises of conduct that poses a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." (Harvard Law Review 368), the Court held that the residual clause violated the Fifth Amendment's due process which required the judge to provide fair notice and arbitrary enforcement. The clause was identified as vague and therefore void. In light of the Court's holding in Johnson, the Ninth Circuit ordered supplemental briefing as well as arguments on the question of whether 16(b) was unconstitutionally vague. This argument further prompted the Ninth Circuit to reverse the BIA ultimately

The United States Supreme Court made a decision on the Johnson v. the United States case when Dimaya had a pending appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Johnson v. the United States case defined what a "violent felony" is which was unconstitutionally vague in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Therefore, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit maintained that the INA's crime was unconstitutionally vague because it was almost similar to the violent felony provision that the ACCA used in the Johnson v. the United States case. The appellate court later discovered that both provisions were not fair to the defendants because they were denied fair notice. Also, the provision did not make it clear to which degree that a risk of violence could be seen as substantial.

The Immigration and Nationality Act's provision for a "crime of violence" is unconstitutionally vague because it violates the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Therefore, Justice Elena Kagan gave out the 5-4 opinion in different parts. For instance, to decide if a person's conduct can be categorized as a "crime of violence" according to Section 16(b), the courts will look at the nature of the offense committed, especially "whether 'the ordinary case' of an offense poses the requisite risk." According to the court, the term "ordinary case" under the "crime of violence" is too vague thus risking an interpretation that is both arbitrary and unpredictable. In 2015, the Johnson v. United States case was declared as unconstitutionally vague, and the provision used in Dimaya's case suffers from the same problem.

Majority of the court apart from Justice Neil Gorsuch did not approve the government's argument that removal cases need to be flexible since a deportation penalty is very severe. Justice Gorsuch had a different opinion since he felt that all civil statutes including those that do not involve removal need to be reviewed. On the other hand, Chief Justice John Roberts together with Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas all rejected the government's argument. They argued that the INA's provision did not have the same degree of uncertainty like in that case. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, joined in part by Justices Kennedy and Alito, to express "doubt that our practice of striking down statutes as unconstitutionally vague is consistent with the original meaning of the Due Process Clause." (Harvard Law Review 370).

The part that that Justice Gorsuch did not agree, the plurality considered the government's argument that Johnson was distinguishable as it was a criminal case. In addition, the government had demonstrated great tolerance for vagueness in the decisions made prior by the court in regards to the enactments with civil instead of criminal penalties because the consequences such as imprisonment were less severe. The court also held, in previous decisions, that exacting vagueness should be applied in the standards of removal cases. In addition, the severe consequences of deportation that can amount to exile or life-long banishment from the United States. As a result, it was the plurality maintained that it was alright to subject provisions of immigration law to the same standard of "void for vagueness" that it had applied to criminal cases. Therefore, according to the plurality, the only way the residual clause of 16 could be used in the immigration hearings was for the government to identify that the residual clause was "materially clearer that its now-invalidated ACCA counterpart."


In conclusion, justice Kagan identifies two problems with the clause of 16(b). Both the ACCA residual clause and clause 16(b) provide no assistance to courts on the best methods of performance of their tasks in identifying the ordinary case of a specific offense. Another problem can also be identified as the intermediate level of risk that is required to distinguish a crime as "violent". The court agreed that the language used in 16(b) requires a standard of "substantial risk" which is unconstitutionally vague on its own. This vagueness causes a problem as the courts would have to apply the indeterminate standard to "a judge-imagined abstraction" of the average criminal case.

Work Cited

Harvard Law Review. "Fifth Amendment: Due Process, Void for Vagueness Doctrine - Sessions v. Dimaya." Harvard Law Review, vol. 132, no. 367, Nov. 2018, pp. 367-376,

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Supreme Court Applies Johnson v. US to Immigration Sanctions - Essay Sample. (2023, Jan 01). Retrieved from

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