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Prof. Glenn Smith Discusses SCOTUS Ruling on Federal Deportation Law

Professor Glenn Smith (Right) on KUSI News

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to invalidate a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act that facilitates deportation of noncitizens convicted of violent crimes—with Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the Court's liberal members in overturning the statute for being too imprecise to enforce.

California Western School of Law Professor Glenn Smith appeared on KUSI News to impart his Supreme Court expertise, clarifying intricacies of the Court's 5-4 decision and what it means to be "unconstitutionally vague."

"One of the hallmarks of due process of law—that the average person understands what a law covers and what it doesn't—was not present here," says Smith. "The definition of an aggravated felony was simply too vague to provide meaningful guidelines."

The decision concerns a catchall provision of immigration law that defines what makes a crime violent. Conviction for a crime of violence makes deportation "a virtual certainty" for an immigrant, no matter how long he has lived in the United States, Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her opinion for the Court.

In what many consider a surprise alignment of the nine justices, it was the vote of President Trump-appointee Gorsuch that was decisive in striking down the provision, with the four other conservative justices in dissent. According to Smith, however, there are more nuanced factors at play.

"People tend to have a simplistic view of the Court as liberals vs. conservatives, but it's often much more complicated than that," Smith explains. "Interestingly, Justice Gorsuch was continuing the advocacy and leadership of Justice [Antonin] Scalia, another well-known conservative. The Court and its decisions are multi-faceted—not something that we can boil down to polarized politics."

The decision does not, however, interfere with the government's ability to deport people who are convicted of clearly violent crimes, including murder and rape, as well as drug trafficking and other serious offenses.