Bindczyck v. Finucane

Decision Date26 November 1951
Docket NumberNo. 18,18
Citation342 U.S. 76,72 S.Ct. 130,96 L.Ed. 100
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Joseph A. Fanelli, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. James L. Morrisson, Washington, D.C., for respondents.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

On December 2, 1943, the Circuit Court of Frederick County, Maryland, issued a certificate of naturalization to petitioner after proceedings that conformed with the requirements of the Nationality Act of 1940. 54 Stat. 1137, 8 U.S.C. § 501 ff, 8 U.S.C.A. § 501 et seq. Seven days later, and at the same term of court, the Government moved to vacate and set aside the order of naturalization, claiming on evidence outside the record that it was obtained by fraud and that therefore the citizenship was illegally procured.

It is admitted that the requirements of § 338 of the Nationality Act, wherein Congress made specific provision for 'revoking * * * the order admitting * * * to citizenship * * * on the ground of fraud or on the ground that such order * * * (was) illegally procured',1 were not followed. Instead, the Maryland court exercised its general power under Maryland law to set aside judgments during the term of court in which they were rendered.2

We brought this case here to determine whether the requirements of § 338 control the revocation of citizenship on the ground of fraud or on the ground that it was illegally procured; or whether the grant of citizenship by the courts of the forty-eight States is subject to whatever summary control State courts may have over their merely local judgments. The questions are of obvious importance in the administration of the naturalization laws, apart from the conflict between the views of the court below and those of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in United States ex rel. Volpe v. Jordan, 161 F.2d 390.

The issue was raised by petitioner's action in the District Court for the District of Columbia for a judgment declaring him to be a citizen of the United States and for an order restraining respondents from deporting him. Upon a motion by the Government to dismiss the complaint, petitioner moved for summary judgment which was granted by the District Court, declaring petitioner 'to be a national and citizen of the United States' but 'without prejudice to the government's right to institute appropriate proceedings for denaturalization under Sec. 338 of the Nationality Act of 1940.' The Court of Appeals reversed, 87 U.S.App.D.C. 137, 184 F.2d 225, and we granted certiorari. 341 U.S. 919, 71 S.Ct. 742, 95 L.Ed. 1353.

Due regard for § 338, including the history of its origin, and for the nature of a judgment of naturalization, together with a consideration of the conflicting and capricious diversities of local law affecting the finality of local judgments, compel us to hold that § 338 is the exclusive procedure for canceling citizenship on the score of fraudulent or illegal procurement based on evidence outside the record.

Section 338 of the Nationality Act of 1940 is for our purpose the reenactment of § 15 of the Act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 596, 601. That Act was the culmination of half a century's agitation directed at naturalization frauds, particularly in their bearing upon the suffrage.3 On the basis of a nationwide survey to determine the incidence and causes of naturalization frauds with a view to devising recommendations for corrective legislation, Pres- ident Theodore Roosevelt's Commission on Naturalization prepared a report which was the foundation of the Act of 1906. H.R.Doc.No.46, 59th Cong., 1st Sess. This report, the hearings before congressional committees and their reports, the floor debates on the proposed measure, leave no doubt that the target of legislation was fraudulent naturalization.4 It is equally clear that the remedy for the disclosed evil lay in the effective exercise of the power of Congress 'To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization'. U.S.Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 4.

To prevent fraud in a proceeding before a naturalization court, the Act devised a scheme of administrative oversight for the naturalization process. The Government was given the right to appear. § 11, 34 Stat. 596, 599. This right was fortified by requiring notice of the petition to the newly created Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization and a ninety-day waiting period between the filing of the petition and the final hearing. §§ 6 and 12, 34 Stat. 596, 598 and 599. These were safeguards to enable verification by the Bureau of the facts alleged in the petition and investigation of the qualifications of the applicant for citizenship.5 By these provisions Congress recognized that enforcement is the heart of the law.

But Congress was not content to devise measures against fraud in procuring naturalization only. In § 15 of the Act of 1906 it formulated a carefully safeguarded method for denaturalization. Though the principal criticism leading to the enactment concerned the evils inherent in widely diverse naturalization procedures, experience was not wanting of the dangers and hardships attendant on haphazard denaturalization. Information was before Congress that ever since 1890 the then circuit courts had vacated naturalization orders at the suit of the Attorney General,6 although when the validity of § 15 was before it, this Court left open the question whether a court of equity had such power without express legislative authority. Johannessen v. United States, 225 U.S. 227, 240, 32 S.Ct. 613, 616, 56 L.Ed. 1066. But the revocation of citizenship before 1906 was not always surrounded by the safeguards of an original equity proceeding. See, e.g., Tinn v. United States District Attorney, 1906, 148 Cal. 773, 84 P. 152.7 Indeed, the history of the Act of 1906 makes clear that elections could be influenced by irregular denaturalizations as well as by fraudulent naturalizations. The only instance in the extensive legislative materials of vacation of naturalization orders by what appears to have been the procedure urged by the Government in this case involved just such a situation. A judge who had naturalized seven aliens on the supposition that they were members of his own political party promptly vacated his order when this supposition was corrected. See Rep.Atty.Gen. 394 (1903).8

Significantly, floor action on § 15 in the House reveals a specific purpose to deprive the naturalizing court as such of power to revoke. The original bill authorized United States attorneys to institute revocation proceedings in the court issuing the certificate as well as in a court having jurisdiction to naturalize in the district of the naturalized citizen's residence. H.R.15442, 59th Cong., 1st Sess., § 17. A committee amendment adopted just before final passage put the section in the form in which it was enacted. That amendment, in the words of Congressman Bonynge, the manager of the bill, 'takes away the right to institute (a revocation proceeding) in the court out of which the certificate of citizenship may have been issued, unless the alien happens to reside within the jurisdiction of that court.' 40 Cong.Rec. 7874.

In the light of this legislative history we cannot escape the conclusion that in its detailed provisions for revoking a naturalization because of fraud or illegal procurement not appearing on the face of the record, Congress formulated a self-contained, exclusive procedure. With a view to protecting the Government against fraud while safeguarding citizenship from abrogation except by a clearly defined procedure, Congress insisted on the detailed, explicit provisions of § 15. To find that at the same time it left the same result to be achieved by the confused and conflicting medley, as we shall see, of State procedures for setting aside local judgments is to read congressional enactment without respect for reason.

Between them, these two sections, § 11 and § 15, provided a complete and exclusive framework for safeguarding citizenship against unqualified applicants. Under the first, the Government was given ample opportunity to interpose objections prior to the order of naturalization. If proper account was not taken of the evidence, the Government had recourse to appeal for examination of the action of the naturalizing court on the record. Tutun v. United States, 270 U.S. 568, 46 S.Ct. 425, 70 L.Ed. 738. Congress, however, thought that ninety days was quite enough time for the Government to develop its case—indeed many members deemed it too long. 40 Cong.Rec. 7766—7770. At the expiration of that time, if citizenship was granted, it was to be proof against attacks for fraud or illegal procurement based on evidence outside the record, except through the proceedings prescribed in § 15. The congressional scheme, providing carefully for the representation of the Government's interest before the grant of citizenship and a detailed, safeguarded procedure for attacking the decree on evidence of fraud outside the record,9 covers the whole ground. Every national interest is thereby protected.

Neither uncontested practice nor adjudication by lower courts has rendered a verdict which is disregarded by our construction of § 338. Nor as a rule for future conduct is any burden thereby placed on the Government in setting aside a naturalization order where it can prove illegality or fraud.

An abstract syllogism is pressed against this natural, because rational, treatment of § 338 as the exclusive and safeguarding procedure for voiding naturalizations granted after compliance with the careful formalities of § 334. 10 Grant of citizenship is a judgment; a judgment is within the control of the issuing court during the court's term; therefore naturalization is subject to revocation for fraud or illegal procurement during the term of the court that granted it. So runs the argument. Such abstract reasoning is mechanical jurisprudence in its most glittering form. It disregards all...

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