United States v. Menasche

Decision Date04 April 1955
Docket NumberNo. 104,104
Citation75 S.Ct. 513,99 L.Ed. 615,348 U.S. 528
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Petitioner, v. Richard Isaac MENASCHE
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr.

Gray Thoron, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Peyton Ford, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case and Shomberg v. United States, 348 U.S. 540, 75 S.Ct. 509, present questions concerning the proper interpretation of the general savings clause of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 66 Stat. 280, 8 U.S.C. § 1101 note, 8 U.S.C.A. § 1101 note. This clause, § 405 of the Act, provides as follows:

'(a) Nothing contained in this Act, unless otherwise specifically provided therein, shall be construed to affect the validity of any declaration of intention, petition for naturalization, certificate of naturalization, certificate of citizenship, warrant of arrest, order or warrant of deportation, order of exclusion, or other document or proceeding which shall be valid at the time this Act shall take effect; or to affect any prosecution, suit, action, or proceedings, civil or criminal, brought, or any status, condition, right in process of acquisition, act, thing, liability, obligation, or matter, civil or criminal, done or existing, at the time this Act shall take effect; but as to all such prosecutions, suits, actions, proceedings, statutes (sic), conditions, rights, acts, things, liabilities, obligations, or matters the statutes or parts of statutes repealed by this Act are, unless otherwise specifically provided therein, hereby continued in force and effect. * *

'(b) Except as otherwise specifically provided in title III, any petition for naturalization heretofore filed which may be pending at the time this Act shall take effect shall be heard and determined in accordance with the requirements of law in effect when such petition was filed.'

The issue here presented is whether an alien, who filed his declaration of intention to become an American citizen before the effective date of the 1952 Act, and who otherwise complied with the naturalization laws then in effect, has a 'status,' 'condition,' or 'right in process of acquisition' preserved by § 405(a), supra, despite the fact that his petition for naturalization was filed after the effective date of the new Act. The Government contends that petitions for naturalization are to be governed exclusively by § 405(b), and that since respondent does not come within the terms of that subsection—his petition not having been filed before the effective date of the new Act—the savings clause is inapplicable and the substantive provisions of the 1952 Act apply.

The facts are not in dispute. Respondent was admitted for permanent residence in the United States on March 7, 1948, and the following month he filed his declaration of intention to become a citizen. During the next five years, respondent was absent from the United States on business for several periods of less than a year each. Although the aggregate of these absences was some forty-four months, it is conceded that respondent had not at any time abandoned his American residence. Accordingly, all other prerequisites to citizenship having been satisfied, respondent was entitled to be naturalized under the Nationality Act of 1940 upon completing five years of residence. 54 Stat. 1142, 8 U.S.C. (1946 ed.) § 707. But before this period had run, the Immigration and Nationality Act became effective on December 24, 1952. Section 316(a) of this Act, 66 Stat. 242, 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a), 8 U.S.C.A. § 1427(a), imposed a new requirement of physical presence: to be eligible for citizenship, an alien must be physically present in the United States for at least one-half the period constituting his five-year residence. When, on April 24, 1953, Menasche filed his petition for naturalization, he lacked 14 months of fulfilling this new requirement. Thus, if the 1952 Act applies to respondent's case, it is clear he may not be naturalized, while under the 1940 Act he is admittedly eligible for citizenship.

The district judge admitted Menasche to citizenship, holding that the 1940 Act governs because respondent enjoyed a status, condition, and right in process of acquisition preserved by § 405(a) of the new Act. 115 F.Supp. 434. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 210 F.2d 809. We granted certiorari because of the importance of the questions presented in this and the companion case of Shomberg v. United States, 348 U.S. 540, 75 S.Ct. 509, in the administration of our nationality laws. 348 U.S. 811, 75 S.Ct. 33.

In interpreting § 405 of the Immigration and Nationality Act in relation to the facts of this case, we must consider the historical background of the savings clause and of the procedure for filing declarations of intention. The declaration of intention was introduced into our law by the second Act of Congress on the subject of naturalization, 1 Stat. 414 (1795), and remained an integral part of our naturalization procedure until the Act of 1952 dispensed with it as a prerequisite to citizenship. 66 Stat. 254, 8 U.S.C. § 1445(f), 8 U.S.C.A. § 1445(f). For the more than 150 years between these enactments, Congress considered it appropriate to require aliens to declare their intention to become United States citizens several years before they petitioned for naturalization. Exceptions were made from time to time to avoid hardship or to expedite the naturalization of a favored group, but until the 1952 enactment the declaration constituted the 'first papers' toward American citizenship in the usual naturalization procedure. See Joint Hearings before the Subcommittees of the Committees on the Judiciary, 82d Cong., 1st Sess., on S. 716, H.R. 2379, and H.R. 2816, pp. 79—80, 723—725; S. Rep. No. 1515, 81st Cong., 2d, Sess., pp. 732—734.

Savings clauses of the type here involved—broad, inclusive provisions—date back to the general statutes on immigration and naturalization enacted in the early part of this century. The Naturalization Act of 1906, 34 Stat 596, the first real codification of our nationality laws, did not contain a general savings clause, but sought to protect certain prior rights by means of specific provisions. 34 Stat. 597, 599, 603. Nor was there an over-all savings provision in the first of the general immigration laws following the turn of the century. 32 Stat. 1213 (1903). The germ was there, however, in a clause stating that 'nothing contained in this Act shall be construed to affect any prosecution or other proceeding, criminal or civil,' begun under a prior Act. 32 Stat. 1220. In subsequent immigration laws, the predecessors of the instant provision could be more clearly discerned. The Immigration Act of 1907 provided that nothing in the Act 'shall be construed to affect any prosecution, suit, action, or proceedings brought, or any act, thing, or matter, civil or criminal, done or existing at the time of the taking effect of this Act.' 34 Stat. 907. To the same effect is the savings clause of the Immigration Act of 1917. 39 Stat. 897. In the years that followed, amendments to the immigration and naturalization laws were enacted with more limited savings clauses, tailored to the special changes made by the new legislation. 40 Stat. 545, 547, 548; 40 Stat. 559, amended, 55 Stat. 252; 42 Stat. 1022; 43 Stat. 169; 46 Stat. 854.1 These provisions, though differing in their terms, manifested an intention on the part of Congress to save rights which had accrued under prior laws.

The direct antecedent of the savings clause here involved appeared as § 347 of the Nationality Act of 1940, 54 Stat. 1168, 8 U.S.C. (1946 ed.) § 747, the last legislation prior to 1952 to deal with our general system of naturalization. Like the present § 405, the provision in the 1940 Act was divided into two subsections. The first of these, subsection (a), expanded upon the multiplicity of legal subjects preserved by the 1907 and 1917 immigration laws. 2 Subsection (b), on the other hand, introduced an entirely new wrinkle by providing that pending naturalization petitions 'shall be heard and determined within two years thereafter in accordance with the requirements of law in effect when such petition was filed.'3 the litigation under this section, involving, first, the scope of subsection (a) and, secondly, the relation between the two subsections, throws considerable light on the parallel problems under § 405 presented in the instant case.

The 1952 Act made the enumeration of matters preserved by subsection (a) more complete and all-inclusive by adding: 'status,' 'condition,' 'right in process of acquisition,' 'liability,' and 'obligation.' The change was undoubtedly prompted by several sets of inconsistent decisions dealing with the vague terminology in § 347(a) of the 1940 Act preserving 'any act, thing, or matter, civil or criminal.' The first of these concerned the question whether the withdrawal of a declaration of intention to avoid service in the armed forces constituted an 'act' existing under the prior law which continued to debar the alien from citizenship. Compare Petition of Otness, D.C., 49 F.Supp. 220, with In re Urmeneta, D.C., 42 F.Supp. 138, and In re Samowich, D.C., 70 F.Supp. 273. A second and more significant conflict concerned inchoate rights to derivative citizenship, which, when proper conditions were met, required only the passage of time to ripen into full citizenship. When the 1940 Act changed certain of the conditions in this process, the question arose whether those whose time had begun to run before the 1940 Act took effect were to be governed by the old law or the new. The Second Circuit held that the new law applied, because § 347(a) of the 1940 Act did not extend to 'a mere condition, unattended by any affirmative action.' United States ex rel. Aberasturi v. Cain, 147 F.2d 449, 452. The Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia disagreed, construing the broad language of § 347(a...

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