320 U.S. 118 (1943), 2, Schneiderman v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 2
Citation:320 U.S. 118, 63 S.Ct. 1333, 87 L.Ed. 1796
Party Name:Schneiderman v. United States
Case Date:June 21, 1943
Court:United States Supreme Court

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320 U.S. 118 (1943)

63 S.Ct. 1333, 87 L.Ed. 1796



United States

No. 2

United States Supreme Court

June 21, 1943

Argued November 9, 1942

Reargued March 12, 1943




1. Assuming that, in the absence of fraud, a certificate of citizenship can be set aside under §15 of the Naturalization Act of 1906 as "illegally procured" because the finding by the naturalization court that the applicant was attached to the principles of the Constitution was erroneous, the burden is upon the Government to prove the error by clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence; a mere preponderance of evidence which leaves the issue in doubt will not suffice. P. 124.

2. In construing the Acts of Congress governing naturalization and denaturalization, general expressions should not be so construed as to circumscribe liberty of political thought. P. 132.

3. The Government sued in 1939 to cancel a certificate of citizenship, granted in 1927, charging that it had been "illegally procured," in that the defendant, at the time of the naturalization and for five years preceding, was not attached to the principles of the Constitution, but was, in fact ,a member of, and affiliated with, and believed in and supported the principles of, certain communistic organizations in the United States which were opposed to the principles of the Constitution and advocated the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force and violence.


(1) That the evidence, which is reviewed in the opinion, fails to show with the requisite degree of certainty that during the period in question the defendant was not attached to the principles of the Constitution. P. 135.

(2) Attachment to the principles of the Constitution is not necessarily incompatible with a desire to have it amended. P. 137.

(3) Utterances of certain leaders of the party organizations in question, advocating force and violence, are not imputable to the defendant. P. 146.

(4) Under the conflicting evidence in this case, the Court can not say that the Government proved with the requisite certainty that the attitude of the Communist party in the United States in 1927 towards force and violence was in the category of agitation and exhortation calling for present violent action which creates a clear

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and present danger of public disorder or other substantive evil, rather than a mere doctrinal justification or prediction of the use of force under hypothetical conditions at some indefinite future time, not calculated or intended to be presently acted upon, but leaving opportunity for general discussion and calm reason. P. 157.

4. The Court does not consider findings made by the District Court in this case upon issues outside of the scope of the complaint; in a denaturalization case, as in a criminal case, the Government is limited to the matters charged in the complaint. P. 159.

119 F.2d 500 reversed.

MURPHY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

We brought this case here on certiorari, 314 U.S. 597, because of its importance and its possible relation to freedom of thought. The question is whether the naturalization of petitioner, an admitted member of the Communist Party of the United States, was properly set aside by the courts below some twelve years after it was granted. We agree with our brethren of the minority that our relations with Russia, as well as our views regarding its government and the merits of Communism, are immaterial to a decision of this case. Our concern is with what Congress

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meant by certain statutes and whether the Government has proved its case under them.

While it is our high duty to carry out the will of Congress in the performance of this duty, we should have a jealous regard for the rights of petitioner. We should let our judgment be guided so far as the law permits by the spirit of freedom and tolerance in which our nation was founded, and by a desire to secure the blessings of liberty in thought and action to all those upon whom the right of American citizenship has been conferred by statute, as well as to the native born. And we certainly should presume that Congress was motivated by these lofty principles.

We are directly concerned only with the rights of this petitioner and the circumstances surrounding his naturalization, but we should not overlook the fact that we are a heterogeneous people. In some of our larger cities, a majority of the school children are the offspring of parents only one generation, if that far, removed from the steerage of the immigrant ship, children of those who sought refuge in the new world from the cruelty and oppression of the old, where men have been burned at the stake, imprisoned, and driven into exile in countless numbers for their political and religious beliefs. Here, they have hoped to achieve a political status as citizens in a free world in which men are privileged to think and act and speak according to their convictions, without fear of punishment or further exile so long as they keep the peace and obey the law.

This proceeding was begun on June 30, 1939, under the provisions of § 15 of the Act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 596, 601, to cancel petitioner's certificate of citizenship granted in 1927. This section gives the United States the right and the duty to set aside and cancel certificates of citizenship on the ground of "fraud" or on the ground that

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they were "illegally procured."1 The complaint charged that the certificate had [63 S.Ct. 1335] been illegally procured in that petitioner was not, at the time of his naturalization, and during the five years preceding his naturalization,

had not behaved as, a person attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States,2 but in truth and in fact during all of said times, respondent [petitioner] was a member of and affiliated with and believed in and supported the principles of certain organizations

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then known as the Workers (Communist) Party of America and the Young Workers (Communist) League of America, whose principles were opposed to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and advised, advocated and taught the overthrow of the Government, Constitution and laws of the United States by force and violence.

The complaint also charged fraudulent procurement in that petitioner concealed his Communist affiliation from the naturalization court. The Government proceeds here not upon the charge of fraud, but upon the charge of illegal procurement.

This is not a naturalization proceeding in which the Government is being asked to confer the privilege of citizenship upon an applicant. Instead, the Government seeks to turn the clock back twelve years after full citizenship was conferred upon petitioner by a judicial decree, and to deprive him of the priceless benefits that derive from that status. In its consequences, it is more serious than a taking of one's property, or the imposition of a fine or other penalty. For it is safe to assert that nowhere in the world today is the right of citizenship of greater worth to an individual than it is in this country. It would be difficult to exaggerate its value and importance. By many, it is regarded as the highest hope of civilized men. This does not mean that, once granted to an alien, citizenship cannot be revoked or canceled on legal grounds under appropriate proof. But such a right once conferred should not be taken away without the clearest sort of justification and proof. So, whatever may be the rule in a naturalization proceeding (see United States v. Manzi, 276 U.S. 463, 467), in an action instituted under § 15 for the purpose of depriving one of the precious right of citizenship previously conferred, we believe the facts and the law should be construed as far as is reasonably possible in favor of the citizen. Especially is this so when the attack is made long after the time when the certificate of

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citizenship was granted and the citizen has meanwhile met his obligations and has committed no act of lawlessness. It is not denied that the burden of proof is on the Government in this case. For reasons presently to be stated, this burden must be met with evidence of a clear and convincing character that, when citizenship was conferred upon petitioner in 1927, it was not done in accordance with strict legal requirements.

We are dealing here with a court decree entered after an opportunity to be heard. At the time petitioner secured his certificate of citizenship from the federal district court for the Southern District of California, notice of the filing of the naturalization petition was required to be given ninety days before the petition was acted [63 S.Ct. 1336] on (§ 6 of the Act of 1906), the hearing on the petition was to take place in open court (§ 9), and the United States had the right to appear, to cross-examine petitioner and his witnesses, to introduce evidence, and to oppose the petition (§ 11). In acting upon the petition, the district court exercised the judicial power conferred by Article III of the Constitution, and the Government had the right to appeal from the decision granting naturalization. Tutun v. United States, 270 U.S. 568. The record before us does not reveal the circumstances under which petitioner was naturalized, except that it took place in open court. We do not know whether or not the Government exercised its right to appear and to appeal. Whether it did or not, the hard fact remains that we are here reexamining a judgment, and the rights solemnly conferred under it.

This is the first case to come before us in which the Government has sought to set aside a decree of naturalization years after it was granted on a charge that the finding of attachment...

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