Don't Read too Much into Gorsuch's Vote in Sessions v. Dimaya
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the Court's four liberals yesterday in the case Sessions v. Dimaya finding that the federal definition of "a crime of violence" is too vague to be enforced. The 5-4 decision invalidated a provision of a federal statute that requires the mandatory deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of a violent crime.
Gorsuch's nomination by President Trump, was seen by Republicans as their most important triumph in Trump's first year in office, so Gorsuch's vote yesterday disappointed many conservatives. It also delighted many progressives, but they would be wrong to read much into it. The Dimaya decision doesn't mean that Gorsuch isn't the "judicial conservative" that Republicans had hoped for. He is, but sometimes he may stray from the conservative majority, much as the late Justice Antonin Scalia did, in cases in which he believes defendants have been charged under impermissibly vague statutes.
Its quite possible, however, that Gorsuch used Dimaya to send another message. The four other conservatives on the Court found room to distinguish Dimaya from earlier precedent because it was an immigration action rather than a criminal case. Clearly Gorsuch realizes that immigration is President Trump's signature issue and that the decision will complicated Trump's agenda. Might he have wanted to signal his independence from a President who has spent considerable energy in deriding the Judicial Branch of our Government?
In any case, there is an excellent piece on the Dimaya decision at Scotusblog here.