356 U.S. 44 (1958), 44, Perez v. Brownell

Docket Nº:No. 44
Citation:356 U.S. 44, 78 S.Ct. 568, 2 L.Ed.2d 603
Party Name:Perez v. Brownell
Case Date:March 31, 1958
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 44

356 U.S. 44 (1958)

78 S.Ct. 568, 2 L.Ed.2d 603




No. 44

United States Supreme Court

March 31, 1958

Argued May 1, 1957

Restored to the calendar for reargument June 24, 1957

Reargued October 28, 1957




In proceedings to deport a person born in the United States, the Government denied that he was an American citizen on the ground that, by voting in a Mexican political election and remaining outside of the United States in wartime to avoid military service, he had lost his citizenship under § 401(e) and (j) of the Nationality Act of 1940, as amended. He sued for a judgment declaring him to be a citizen but was denied relief.

Held: It was within the authority of Congress, under its power to regulate the relations of the United States with foreign countries, to provide in § 401(e) that anyone who votes in a foreign political election shall lose his American citizenship, and the judgment is affirmed. Pp. 45-62.

(a) The power of Congress to regulate foreign relations may reasonably be deemed to include a power to deal with voting by American citizens in foreign political elections, since Congress could find that such activities, because they might give rise to serious international embarrassment, relate to the conduct of foreign relations. Pp. 57-60.

(b) Since withdrawal of the citizenship of Americans who vote in foreign political elections is reasonably calculated to effect the avoidance of embarrassment in the conduct of foreign relations, such withdrawal is within the power of Congress, acting under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Pp. 60-62.

(c) There is nothing in the language, the context, the history or the manifest purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment to warrant drawing from it a restriction upon the power otherwise possessed by Congress to withdraw citizenship. P. 58, n. 3.

Page 45

(d) No opinion is expressed with respect to the constitutionality of § 401(j) relating to persons who remain outside the United States to avoid military service. P. 62.

235 F.2d 364, affirmed.

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a national of the United States by birth, has been declared to have lost his American citizenship by operation of the Nationality Act of 1940, 54 Stat. 1137, as amended by the Act of September 27, 1944, 58 Stat. 746. Section 401 of that Act1 provided that

A person who is a national of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by:

* * * *

(e) Voting in a political election in a foreign state or participating in an election or plebiscite to determine the sovereignty over foreign territory; or

* * * *

Page 46

(j) Departing from or remaining outside of the jurisdiction of the United States in time of war or during a period declared by the President to be a period of national emergency for the purpose of evading or avoiding training and service in the land or naval forces of the United States.

He seeks a reversal of the judgment against him on the ground that these provisions were beyond the power of Congress to enact.

Petitioner was born in Texas in 1909. He resided in the United States until 1919 or 1920, when he moved with his parents to Mexico, where he lived, apparently without interruption, until 1943. In 1928, he was informed that he had been born in Texas. At the outbreak of World War II, petitioner knew of the duty of male United States citizens to register for the draft, but he failed to do so. In 1943, he applied for admission to the United States as an alien railroad laborer, stating that he was a native-born citizen of Mexico, and was granted permission to enter on a temporary basis. He returned to Mexico in 1944, and shortly thereafter applied for and was granted permission, again as a native-born Mexican citizen, to enter the United States temporarily to continue his employment as a railroad laborer. Later in 1944, he returned to Mexico once more. In 1947, petitioner applied for admission to the United States at El Paso, Texas, as a citizen of the United States. At a Board of Special Inquiry hearing (and in his subsequent appeals to the Assistant Commissioner and the Board of Immigration Appeals), he admitted having remained outside of the United States to avoid military service and having voted in political elections in Mexico. He was ordered excluded on the ground that he had expatriated himself; this order was affirmed on appeal. In 1952, petitioner, claiming to be a native-born citizen of Mexico,

Page 47

was permitted to enter the United States as an alien agricultural laborer. He surrendered in 1953 to immigration authorities in San Francisco as an alien unlawfully in the United States, but claimed the right to remain by virtue of his American citizenship. After a hearing before a Special Inquiry Officer, he was ordered deported as an alien not in possession of a valid immigration visa; this order was affirmed on appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Petitioner brought suit in 1954 in a United States District Court for a judgment declaring him to be a national of the United States.2 The court, sitting without a jury, found (in addition to the undisputed facts set forth above) that petitioner had remained outside of the United States from November, 1944, to July, 1947, for the purpose of avoiding service in the armed forces of the United States, and that he had voted in a "political election" in Mexico in 1946. The court, concluding that he had thereby expatriated himself, denied the relief sought by the petitioner. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 235 F.2d 364. We granted certiorari because of the constitutional questions raised by the petitioner. 352 U.S. 908.

Page 48

Statutory expatriation, as a response to problems of international relations, [78 S.Ct. 571] was first introduced just a half century ago. Long before that, however, serious friction between the United States and other nations had stirred consideration of modes of dealing with the difficulties that arose out of the conflicting claims to the allegiance of foreign-born persons naturalized in the United States, particularly when they returned to the country of their origin.

As a starting point for grappling with this tangle of problems, Congress in 1868 formally announced the traditional policy of this country that it is the "natural and inherent right of all people" to divest themselves of their allegiance to any state, 15 Stat. 223, R.S. § 1999. Although the impulse for this legislation had been the refusal by other nations, notably Great Britain, to recognize a right in naturalized Americans who had been their subjects to shed that former allegiance, the Act of 1868 was held by the Attorney General to apply to divestment by native-born and naturalized Americans of their United States citizenship. 14 Op.Atty.Gen. 295, 296. In addition, while the debate on the Act of 1868 was proceeding, negotiations were completed on the first of a series of treaties for the adjustment of some of the disagreements that were constantly arising between the United States and other nations concerning citizenship. These instruments typically provided that each of the signatory nations would regard as a citizen of the other such of its own citizens as became naturalized by the other. E.g., Treaty with the North German Confederation, Feb. 22, 1868, 2 Treaties, Conventions, International Acts, etc. (comp. Malloy, 1910), 1298. This series of treaties initiated this country's policy of automatic divestment of citizenship for specified conduct affecting our foreign relations.

Page 49

On the basis, presumably, of the Act of 1868 and such treaties as were in force, it was the practice of the Department of State during the last third of the nineteenth century to make rulings as to forfeiture of United States citizenship by individuals who performed various acts abroad. See Borchard, Diplomatic Protection of Citizens Abroad, §§ 319, 324. Naturalized citizens who returned to the country of their origin were held to have abandoned their citizenship by such actions as accepting public office there or assuming political duties. See Davis to Weile, Apr. 18, 1870, 3 Moore, Digest of International Law, 737; Davis to Taft, Jan. 18, 1883, 3 id. at 739. Native-born citizens of the United States (as well as naturalized citizens outside of the country of their origin) were generally deemed to have lost their American citizenship only if they acquired foreign citizenship. See Bayard to Suzzara-Verdi, Jan. 27, 1887, 3 id. at 714; see also Comitis v. Parkerson, 56 F. 556, 559.

No one seems to have questioned the necessity of having the State Department, in its conduct of the foreign relations of the Nation, pass on the validity of claims to American citizenship and to such of its incidents as the right to diplomatic protection. However, it was recognized in the Executive Branch that the Department had no specific legislative authority for nullifying citizenship, and several of the Presidents urged Congress to define the acts by which citizens should be held to have expatriated themselves. E.g., Message of President Grant to Congress, Dec. 7, 1874, 7 Messages and Papers of the Presidents (Richardson ed. 1899) 284, 291-292. Finally, in 1906, during the consideration of the bill that became the Naturalization Act of 1906, a Senate resolution and a recommendation of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs called for an examination of the problems relating to American citizenship, expatriation and protection

Page 50

abroad. In response to these suggestions, the Secretary of...

To continue reading