In Jones v. United States, No. 20-13365 (Sept. 14, 2023) (Wilson, Luck, Lagoa), the Court directed the district court to dismiss a second 2255 motion for lack of jurisdiction.

Jones filed a 2255 motion to vacate his mandatory life sentence under 3559, arguing that its residual clause was unconstitutionally vague in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Johnson, Dimaya, and Davis. On appeal, the government agreed that 3559’s residual clause was unconstitutionally vague and that Jones was otherwise entitled to relief. Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit appointed an amicus to defend the district court’s ruling. Although not even the amicus raised this argument, the Eleventh Circuit sua sponte concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction because Jones could not satisfy the gatekeeping requirement in 2255(h)(2) for a second 2255 motion. The reason was that, although the Supreme Court had declared numerous other similar residual clauses unconstitutional, there was no Supreme Court decision specifically declaring 3559’s residual clause unconstitutional.

Judge Wilson dissented, arguing that Jones was relying on the same rule of law announced in Johnson, as well as Dimaya and Davis, since that rule was not limited to the specific residual clauses struck down in those cases. He said that the majority’s conclusion was “alarming” because, despite the Supreme Court’s clear guidance, prisoners like Jones serving mandatory life sentences will have no way to vindicate their rights unless the Supreme Court takes up a 3559 case, something that might not arise given the government’s agreement that 3559 is unconstitutional.