Johnson v. United States Page 2

Johnson v. United States general information

Media for Johnson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 2014 in Johnson v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - April 20, 2015 in Johnson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 26, 2015 in Johnson v. United States

Antonin Scalia:

Adding further confusion, the residual clause appears after a list of four crimes that it is supposed to resemble; burglary, arson, extortion and crimes involving the use of explosive, but those crimes have little in common insofar as the degree of risk of physical injury is concerned.

By combining indeterminacy about how to measure the risk posed by a crime with indeterminacy about how much risk it takes for the crime to qualify as a violent felony, the residual clause produces more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Constitution permits.

This Court's repeated attempt -- repeated attempts and repeated failures to craft a principled standard out of the residual clause, described in more detail in our opinion, provides strong evidence of its hopeless indeterminacy, so does the persistent inability of lower Federal Courts to apply the clause in a consistent way.

It is true that two of our earlier decisions rejected claims that the residual clause is unconstitutionally vague.

The doctrine of stare decisis, however, allows us to revisit an earlier decision, where experience with its application reveals that it is unworkable.

Here the experience of the Federal Courts leaves no doubt about the unavoidable arbitrariness of adjudication under the residual clause.

In addition, in the earlier cases I just mentioned, no party claimed that the residual clause was unconstitutional and hence nobody argued the point.

The court addressed the clause's constitutionality only in response to dissenting opinions which suggested that the clause might be void for vagueness.

A lack of full-dress argument about vagueness in those cases further diminishes their claim to stare decisis effect.

It has been said that the life of the law is experience.

Nine years experience trying to derive meaning from the residual clause convinces us that we have embarked on a failed enterprise.

Each of the uncertainties in the clause may be tolerable in isolation, but in combination they produce to quote one of our colleagues from the Fourth Circuit, "a black hole of confusion and uncertainty, a judicial morass that defies systemic solution."

The Constitution does not allow the government to invoke so shapeless a provision to condemn someone to prison for 15 years to life.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is reversed.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.

Justice Kennedy and Justice Thomas have filed opinions concurring in the judgment.

Justice Alito has filed a dissenting opinion.