by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[O]ne week after the first anniversary of Neil Gorsuch’s ascension to the Supreme Court, he delivered an opinion that was excellent as it pertained to the case at issue and momentous in its implications pertaining to the institutional tangle known as the administrative state. If he can persuade his fellow court conservatives to see why they were mistaken in disagreeing with him, and if he can persuade his liberal colleagues to follow the logic of their decision with which he concurred, the judiciary will begin restoring constitutional equilibrium. It will limit Congress’s imprecise legislating that requires excessive unguided improvising by all those involved in seeing that the laws are “faithfully” executed. …
… Vague laws “invite the exercise of arbitrary power” by “leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up.” The lack of “precise and sufficient certainty” (criteria stipulated by the English jurist William Blackstone, whose writings influenced the Constitution’s Framers) invites “more unpredictability and arbitrariness” than is constitutional. Furthermore, the crux of America’s constitutional architecture, the separation of powers, is implicated. All legislative power is vested in Congress. The judicial power, Gorsuch wrote, “does not license judges to craft new laws” but only to discern and follow an existing law’s prescribed course. With the fuzzy “crime of violence” category, Congress abdicated its “responsibilities for setting the standards of the criminal law.” So, allowing vague laws would allow Congress “to hand off the job of lawmaking.” Hence such laws not only illegitimately transfer power to police and prosecutors but also would “leave it all to a judicial hunch.”
The principle Gorsuch enunciates here regarding one provision of immigration law is a scythe sharp enough to slice through many practices of the administrative state, which translates often vague congressional sentiments into binding rules, a practice indistinguishable from legislating.