351 U.S. 91 (1956), 213, United States v. Zucca

Docket Nº:No. 213
Citation:351 U.S. 91, 76 S.Ct. 671, 100 L.Ed. 964
Party Name:United States v. Zucca
Case Date:April 30, 1956
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 91

351 U.S. 91 (1956)

76 S.Ct. 671, 100 L.Ed. 964

United States



No. 213

United States Supreme Court

April 30, 1956

Argued January 24-25, 1956




1. Under § 340(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, the filing of an "affidavit showing good cause" is a prerequisite to the maintenance of a denaturalization proceeding. Pp. 91-100.

(a) This conclusion is in accord with the language of the statute. Pp. 94-96.

(b) It is also in accord with the legislative history of the statute, its contemporaneous administrative construction, and the usual administrative practice thereunder. Pp. 96-98.

(c) The filing of such an affidavit is not rendered unnecessary merely because the complaint itself is verified. Pp. 98-99.

2. Section 340(a) is the only section under which a United States Attorney may institute denaturalization proceedings. Bindczyck v. Finucane, 342 U.S. 76. Pp. 95, 99.

221 F.2d 805 affirmed.

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a denaturalization proceeding under § 340(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.1 The sole question is whether § 340(a) makes the filing of the "affidavit showing good cause" a prerequisite to maintenance of the suit. The District Court held that it does,

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and ordered the complaint dismissed unless the Government filed an affidavit showing good cause within 60 days. As this was not done, the complaint was dismissed without prejudice to the Government's right to institute an action to denaturalize the respondent upon filing the affidavit. 125 F.Supp. 551. On appeal by the Government, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed, adopting the opinion of the District Court. 221 F.2d 805. We granted certiorari, 350 U.S. 817, because of an asserted conflict with decisions of the Seventh2 and Ninth3 Circuits and because of the importance of the question [76 S.Ct. 673] in the administration of the immigration and naturalization laws.

Respondent Ettore Zucca was naturalized on January 4, 1944. In 1954, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, proceeding under § 340(a), filed a verified complaint in the United States District Court in his District seeking revocation of respondent's naturalization on the grounds of illegality, concealment of material facts, and willful misrepresentation.

The complaint alleged that respondent, at his naturalization hearing and in his petition for naturalization, had falsely sworn

that he did not belong to and was not associated with any organization which teaches or advocates the overthrow of existing government in this country . . . ,

that it was his

intention in good faith to become a citizen of the United States and to renounce absolutely and forever all allegiance and fidelity to any [foreign powers] . . . ,

and that he was and had been

attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States.

This was followed by

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a general allegation of membership in the Communist Party and "other organizations affiliated with or controlled by the Communist Party of the United States from 1925 to 1947," and equally general allegations that respondent procured his naturalization by concealment and willful misrepresentation in that he concealed the facts relating to his membership in the Communist Party and affiliated organizations and otherwise swore falsely as to his intentions and beliefs. The pleader concluded that "good cause exists for the institution of this suit. . . ." The complaint, no part of which was alleged on information and belief, was verified by an Assistant United States Attorney. When respondent sought to take depositions of this Attorney, he was met with an affidavit in opposition denying personal knowledge.4 Respondent then filed his motion to dismiss on the ground, inter alia, that § 340(a) required the filing of an affidavit showing good cause, and that this requirement had not been complied

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with. As stated above, the motion to dismiss was granted on this ground.

The Government argues that a reading of the statute and its legislative history leads to the conclusion that the filing of an "affidavit showing good cause" is not a prerequisite to maintaining denaturalization proceedings under § 340(a). We do not agree.

The affidavit provision with which we are here concerned first appeared in § 15 of the Act of June 29, 1906.5 Without substantial change, it was carried forward [76 S.Ct. 674] in the laws of 19406 and 1952,7 currently reading as follows:

SEC. 340. (a) It shall be the duty of the United States district attorneys for the respective districts, upon affidavit showing good cause therefor, to institute proceedings in any court specified in subsection (a) of section 310 of this title in the judicial district in which the naturalized citizen may reside at the time of bringing suit, for the purpose of revoking and setting aside the order admitting such person to citizenship and canceling the certificate of naturalization on the ground that such order and certificate of naturalization were procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation, . . .

(Emphasis added.)

Were we obliged to rely solely on the wording of the statute, we would have no difficulty in reaching the conclusion that the filing of the affidavit is a prerequisite to maintaining a denaturalization suit. This conclusion is not altered by a consideration of the Government's highly

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speculative suggestions as to the meaning of the legislative history. On the contrary, we think that it is entirely consistent with the Court's statement in Bindczyck v. Finucane, 342 U.S. 76, 83, that Congress acted

[w]ith a view to protecting the Government against fraud while safeguarding citizenship from abrogation except by a clearly defined procedure. . . .

The natural meaning of the language used in § 340(a) is that filing of the affidavit is a procedural prerequisite to maintenance of the suit. In the Bindczyck case, this Court held that § 338(a) of the Nationality Act of 1940, predecessor of § 340(a), sets forth the exclusive procedure for denaturalization.8 Despite that decision, the Government would have us hold now that the grant of power to maintain denaturalization suits is found in the general duty of United States Attorneys to prosecute all civil actions in which the United States is concerned,9 and that § 340(a) merely imposes the

additional duty . . . to act, not alone on their own knowledge and judgment, but on the basis of an affidavit of good cause furnished by private citizens.

In effect, the Government argues that the affidavit is required only when the proceeding is to be brought on the complaint of a private citizen. We need not decide whether a private citizen may ever file such a complaint. The short answer in this case is that the Government laid its complaint expressly under § 340(a).

While arguing that the words of § 340 are words of limitation on the discretion of the United States Attorney, the Government apparently concedes that the

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venue and notice provisions of the Section are generally applicable to denaturalization proceedings. Its argument overlooks the fact that the affidavit and venue provisions are in the same sentence. If the affidavit were required only when the United States Attorney proceeded on the complaint of a private citizen, then only in such a case would the venue be restricted to the district of the defendant's residence. We could accept such a limiting construction of the statute only upon a very clear showing that Congress meant something other than what it said.

[76 S.Ct. 675] The original Act of 1906 was the culmination of many years of study by Congress and a commission of which the Attorney General was a leading spirit and his Assistant the Chairman. Shortly after its enactment, the same Attorney General rendered an opinion to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to the effect that the filing of an affidavit was

necessary to give a United States attorney authority to institute proceedings in any court for the cancellation of a naturalization certificate.10

In such circumstances, a contemporaneous construction of a statute by the officer charged with its enforcement is entitled to great weight. Fawcus Machine Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 375, 378; Norwegian Nitrogen Products Co. v. United States, 288 U.S. 294, 315. Over a period of years, however, there has been some conflict among the circuits concerning the affidavit requirement.11 The Government

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relies particularly on our affirmance of the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Schwinn v. United States, 311 U.S. 616. The Court decided that case on the sole ground of illegal procurement. Although the necessity of the affidavit was considered below in view of the Government's failure to offer proof in support of its allegation that an affidavit of good cause had been furnished, the question was not presented to this Court.12

Prior to the decision in the Schwinn case, the practice of the Justice Department seems generally to have been to institute denaturalization proceedings upon affidavit showing good cause. The Government does not now contend that it has abandoned that practice. It merely claims the right not to do so when it chooses, as clearly appears from portions of a Department of Justice memorandum which has been brought to the Court's attention.13

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We are unimpressed by the reasoning of that memorandum. We think that the public interest is [76 S.Ct. 676] not served by taking such liberties with a specific statutory requirement designed for the protection of naturalized citizens. And we fail to see that the...

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