Schneiderman v. United States

Decision Date21 June 1943
Docket NumberNo. 2,2
Citation63 S.Ct. 1333,320 U.S. 118,87 L.Ed. 1796
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Wendell L. Willkie, of New York City, for petitioner.

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

Mr. Justice MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

We brought this case here on certiorari, 314 U.S. 597, 62 S.Ct. 98, 86 L.Ed. 481, 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 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 naturalizati n, 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 ahve 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 they were 'illegally procured.'1 The complaint charged that the certificate had been illegally procured in that petitioner was not, at the time of his naturalization, and during the five years proceding 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 or- ganizations 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 frandulent 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 cancelled 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, 48 S.Ct. 328, 329, 72 L.Ed. 654), 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 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 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, 46 S.Ct. 425, 70 L.Ed. 738. 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 re-examining 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 was erroneous. Accordingly for the first time we have had to consider the nature and scope of the Government's right in a denaturalization proceeding to re-examine a finding and judgment of attachment upon a charge of illegal procurement. Because of the view we take of this case we do not reach, and therefore do not consider, two questions which have been raised concerning the scope of that right.

The first question is whether, aside from grounds such as lack of jurisdiction or the kind of fraud which traditionally vitiates judgments, cf. United States v. Throckmorton, 98 U.S. 61, 25 L.Ed. 93; Kibbe v. Benson, 17 Wall. 624, 21 L.Ed. 741, Congress can constitutionally attach to the exercise of the judicial power under rticle III of the Constitution, authority to re-examine a judgment granting a certificate of citizenship after that judgment has become final by exhaustion of the appellate process or by a failure to invoke it.3

The second question is whether under the Act of 1906 as it was in 1927 the Government, in the absence of a claim of fraud and relying wholly upon a charge of illegal procurement, can secure a de novo re-examination of a naturalization court's finding and judgment that an applicant for citizenship was attacked to the principles of the Constitution.

We do not consider these questions. For though we assume, without deciding, that in the absence of fraud a certificate of naturalization can be set aside under § 15 as 'illegally procured' because the finding as to attachment would later seem to be erroneous, we are of the opinion that this judgment should be reversed. If a finding of attachment can be so reconsidered in a denaturalization suit, our decisions make it plain that the Government needs more than a bare preponderance of the evidence to prevail. The remedy afforded the Government by the denaturalization statute has been said to be a narrower one than that of direct appeal from the granting of a petition. Tutun v. United States, 270 U.S. 568, 579, 46 S.Ct. 425, 427, 70 L.Ed. 738; cf. United States v. Ness, 245 U.S. 319, 325, 38 S.Ct. 118, 121, 62 L.Ed. 321. Johannessen v. United States states that a certificate of citizenship is 'an instrument granting political privileges, and open like other public grants to be revoked if and when it shall be found to have been unlawfully or fraudulently procured. It is in this respect closely analogous to a public grant of land * * *.' 225 U.S. 227, 238, 32 S.Ct. 613, 615, 56 L.Ed. 1066. See, also, Tutun v. United States, supra. To set aside such a grant the evidence must be 'clear, unequivocal, and convincing''it cannot be done upon a bare preponderance of evidence which leaves the issue in doubt'. Maxwell Land-Grant...

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