Johnson v. United States and the Future of the Void-for-Vagueness Doctrine

9 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2015 Last revised: 22 Sep 2015

See all articles by Carissa Byrne Hessick

Carissa Byrne Hessick

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: September 21, 2015


Last Term, in Johnson v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Armed Career Criminal Act as unconstitutionally vague. The Johnson opinion is certain to have a large impact on federal criminal defendants charged with unlawfully possessing a firearm. But it is also likely to have other important consequences. The language deemed vague in Johnson is similar or identical to language in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and other statutes. What is more, the Johnson opinion elaborates on the void-for-vagueness doctrine in important ways. Those elaborations ought to make vagueness challenges easier to win in the future.

This Commentary examines the implications of Johnson. It also briefly discusses Justice Thomas’s concurrence. Justice Thomas refused to join the majority opinion, instead opting to decide the case in Johnson’s favor on statutory construction grounds. In addition to his statutory construction analysis, Justice Thomas questioned the constitutional basis of the void-for-vagueness doctrine. Justice Thomas’s approach to the vagueness doctrine, if adopted by other members of the Court, could eviscerate the notice function of the doctrine.

Keywords: vagueness, Due Process, Supreme Court

Suggested Citation

Hessick, Carissa Byrne, Johnson v. United States and the Future of the Void-for-Vagueness Doctrine (September 21, 2015). NYU Journal of Law & Liberty, Vol. 10, No. 2015, Forthcoming, University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 131, Available at SSRN:

Carissa Byrne Hessick (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics