Supreme Court limits ability to strip citizenship

A naturalized US citizen should not have been stripped of her citizenship for the sole reason that she lied to USA officials, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday, vacating a lower court's decision.

A couple sit in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. on May 16, 2016. United States, said that using small omissions or minor lies to denaturalize immigrants went beyond what Congress authorized.

The Obama and Trump administrations had tried to convince the justices otherwise. When the federal government later learned of her husband's role during the civil war, it initiated proceedings to deport him.

Since the Supreme Court's landmark Afroyim v. Rusk decision in 1967, American citizenship is generally irrevocable unless its bearer explicitly chooses to forsake it. And she has surely done so "in the course of" procuring citizenship. Maslenjak said her husband had fled to avoid service.

The cases are Turner v. U.S., 15-1503, and Overton v. U.S., 15-1504.

Immigration officials granted the asylum petition for all the Maslenjak. She was later convicted of lying on her citizenship application. But would you say, using English as you ordinarily would, that she has "procure [d]' her citizenship "contrary to law" (or, as you would really speak, 'illegally")?

Maslenjak's lawyers challenged the jury instruction in the case because the jury was told it could convict her even if the false statement at issue did not influence the government's decision to approve her naturalization. "That would give prosecutors almost limitless leverage - and afford newly naturalized Americans precious little security", Kagan wrote.

The justices therefore sent the case back to the lower courts for them to take another look. Assistant Solicitor General Robert Parker replied yes.

"Oh come on", an incredulous Roberts responded.

The high court said, however, that the circumstances of Maslenjak's case do not qualify for that legal provision. Kagan reiterated those same themes in her majority opinion on Thursday.

We recently asked you to support our journalism. The most natural understanding of that, Kagan said, is that the illegal act must have somehow contributed to the obtaining of citizenship.

Kagan noted that such a reading of the law could create paradoxical situations for would-be Americans seeking citizenship. Maslenjak conceded that she had lied, but she argued that she should be able to keep her citizenship because her lies were not material - that is, that they would not have been important to the officials deciding whether to grant her citizenship application. "The government could thus take away on one day what it was required to give the day before".

According to Reuters news agency, the legal question was whether Maslenjak's false statements had a material effect on the United States decision to grant her refugee status.

The court also observed that the rule proposed by the government would open "the door to a world of disquieting consequences", in which a lie "would always provide a basis for rescinding citizenship", even if the lie merely resulted from "embarrassment, fear, or a desire for privacy".

  • Larry Hoffman