Baumgartner v. United States

Decision Date12 June 1944
Docket NumberNo. 493,493
Citation88 L.Ed. 1525,322 U.S. 665,64 S.Ct. 1240
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Harold Evans, of Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner.

Mr. Charles Fahy, Sol. Gen., of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

On september 26, 1932, the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri entered its order admitting Baumgartner to citizenship and issued a certificate of naturalization to him. Almost ten years later, on August 21, 1942, the United States brought this suit under § 338 of the Nationality Act of 1940 (54 Stat. 1137, 1158, 8 U.S.C. § 738, 8 U.S.C.A. § 738) to set aside the naturalization decree and cancel the certificate.1 The District Court entered a decree for the Government, 47 F.Supp. 622, which the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, with one judge dissenting, affirmed. 138 F.2d 29. We brought the case here because it raises important issues in the proper administration of the law affecting naturalized citizens. 321 U.S. 756, 64 S.Ct. 485.

As a condition to receiving his American citizenship, Baumgartner, like every other alien applying for that great gift, was required to declare on oath that he renounced his former allegiance, in this case to the German Reich, and that he would 'support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic', and that he would 'bear true faith and allegiance to the same'. That he did not truly and fully renounce his allegiance to Germany and that he did not in fact intend to support the Constitution and laws of the United States and to give them true faith and allegiance, are the charges of fraud and illegality on which his citizenship is claimed forfeit.

As is true of the determination of all issues of falsity and fraud, the case depends on its own particular facts. But the division of opinion among the judges below makes manifest that facts do not assess themselves and that the decisive element is the attitude appropriate for judgment of the facts in a case like this. The two lower courts have sustained the Government's claim that expressions by Baumgartner, in conversations with others and in the soliloquies of a diary, showed that he consciously withheld complete renunciation of his allegiance to Germany and entertained reservations in his oath of allegiance to his country, its Constitution and its laws. What follows is a fair summary of the evidence on which this finding rests, putting the Government's case in its most favorable light.

Baumgartner was born in Kiel, Germany, on January 20, 1895, and brought up in modestly comfortable circumstances. He received a classical high-school education, which he completed in time to enter the German army in 1914. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1917, and shortly thereafter he was captured by the British and confined in England until November, 1919. Upon his return to Germany, Baumgartner studied at the University of Darmstadt, from which he was graduated in 1925 as an electrical engineer. Thereupon he was employed by a public utility company until January, 1927, when he left for the United States. Shortly before, Baumgartner had married, and his wife followed him to this country later in the same year.

For about three months, Baumgartner stayed with friends in Illinois, and then came to Kansas City, Missouri, where he was employed by the Kansas City Power and Light Company. He continued in its employ down to the time of this suit. The man to whom he reported to work testified that after about two days on the job, Baumgartner began to discuss the political scene in Germany, to express a lack of enthusiasm for the then German Government, and to extol the virtues of Hitler and his movement. Baumgartner spoke so persistently about the superiority of German people, the German schools, and the engineering work of the Germans, that he aroused antagonism among his co-workers and was transferred to a different section of the plant.

There was testimony that in 1933 or 1934 Mrs. Baumgartner's mother visited this country, and that after this visit, Baumgartner, beginning in 1934, 'praised the work that Hitler was doing over there in bringing Germany back, on repeated occasions.' Evidence of statements made by Baumgartner over a period of about seven years beginning in 1933 indicated oftrepeated admiration for the Nazi Government, comparisons between President Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler which led to conclusions that this country would be better off if run as Hitler ran Germany, 'that regimentation, as the Nazis, formed it (sic) was superior to the democracy', and that 'the democracy of the United States was a practical farce'. One witness of German extraction testified that Baumgartner told him he was 'a traitor to my country' because of the witness' condemnation of Hitler. Baumgartner made public speeches on at least three occasions before businessmen's groups, clubs, and the like in which he told of the accomplishments of the Nazi Government and indicated that 'he would be glad to live under the regime of Hitler.'

During 1937 and 1938, Baumgartner conducted a Sunday school class, and former students testified that the discussion in class turned to Germany very frequently, that Baumgartner indicated that his students could get a fairer picture of conditions in Germany from the German radio, and that Germany was justified in much of what it was doing. The school superintendent also testified that he had received complaints that Baumgartner was preaching Nazism.

In 1938 Baumgartner resigned from the Country Club Congregational Church in Kansas City because he objected to the injection of politics into the sermons. In May of the next year his wife and their three children, who had been born in Kansas City, went to Germany to visit Mrs. Baumgartner's parents. One witness testified that Baumgartner explained this trip in part by saying that 'he wanted the children to be brought up in German schools', and when war broke out in September, 1939, Mrs. Baumgartner cabled for money to return but Baumgartner could not raise the necessary funds and felt that his family would be as safe in Germany as here. Baumgartner remarked that he wanted his wife to come back from Germany, when she did, on a German boat. One of Baumgartner's neighbors testified that in a conversation in December, 1939, Baumgartner, asked about his thirteen-year-old daughter then in Germany, said sarcastically: 'Edith has done a very un-American thing, she has joined the Nazi Youth Movement.'

There was testimony that Baumgartner justified the German invasions in the late 1930's, and announced, when Dunkerque fell, that 'Today I am rejoicing.' One witness testified that Baumgartner told him that he 'belonged to an order called the so-called 'Bund", and the diary which Baumgartner kept from December 1, 1938, to the summer of 1941 reveals that he attended a meeting of the German Vocational League where the German national anthem was sung and 'everyone naturally arose and assumed the usual German stance with the arm extended to give the National Socialist greeting'. Other diary entries reflect violent anti-semitism, impatience at the lack of pro-German militancy of German-Americans, and approval of Germans who have not 'been Americanized, that is, ruined.'2 Finally, Baumgartner replied in the affirmative to the trial judge's question: 'was your attitude towards the principles of the American government in 1932 when you took the oath the same as it has been ever since?'

That the concurrent findings of two lower courts are persuasive proof in support of their judgments is a rule of wisdom in judicial administration. In reaffirming its importance we mean to pay more than lip service. But the rule does not relieve us of the task of examining the foundation for findings in a particular case. The measure of proof requisite to denaturalize a citizen was before this Court in Schneiderman v. United States, 320 U.S. 118, 63 S.Ct. 1333, 87 L.Ed. 1796. It was there held that proof to bring about a loss of citizenship must be clear and unequivocal. We cannot escape the conviction that the case made out by the Government lacks that solidity of proof which leaves no troubling doubt in deciding a question of such gravity as is implied in an attempt to reduce a person to the status of alien from that of citizen.

The phrase 'finding of fact' may be a summary characterization of complicated factors of varying significance for judgment. Such a 'finding of fact' may be the ultimate judgment on a mass of details involving not merely an assessment of the trustworthiness of witnesses but other appropriate inferences that may be drawn from living testimony which elude print. The conclusiveness of a 'finding of fact' depends on the nature of the materials on which the finding is based. The finding even of a so-called 'subsidiary fact' may be a more or less difficult process varying according to the simplicity or subtlety of the type of 'fact' in controversy. Finding so-called ultimate 'facts' more clearly implics the application of standards of law. And so the 'finding of fact' even if made by two courts may go beyond the determination that should not be set aside here. Though labeled 'finding of fact', it may involve the very basis on which judgment of fallible evidence is to be made. Thus, the conclusion that may appropriately be drawn from the whole mass of evidence is not always the ascertainment of the kind of 'fact' that precludes consideration by this Court. See, e.g., Beyer v. LeFevre, 186 U.S. 114, 22 S.Ct. 765, 46 L.Ed. 1080. Particularly is this so where a decision here for review cannot escape broadly social judgments judgments lying close to opinion regarding the whole nature of our Government and the duties and immunities of citizenship. Deference properly due to the findings...

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