You cannot be stripped of your citizenship as easily as the government wants

I wrote last month about a case that had been argued before the US Supreme Court about whether one can be stripped of one’s citizenship because one had lied about anything on your citizenship application or whether the lie had to be one that might have materially affected the decision. The government had argued that any lie would be cause for such stripping, even not revealing offenses for which one had not been arrested, such as speeding.

The justices during oral arguments had expressed incredulity about such sweeping government powers and two days ago issued a unanimous decision that only material lies could be used. Amy Howe discussed the case and the opinion.

In an opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, the court reasoned that the “most natural understanding” of the federal law under which Maslenjak was convicted “is that the illegal act must have somehow contributed to the obtaining of citizenship.”

The government’s argument to the contrary, the court observed, “falters on the way language naturally works.” Imagine, the court suggested, a scenario in which “an applicant for citizenship fills out the necessary paperwork in a government office with a knife tucked away in her handbag (but never mentioned or used).” Although the applicant has violated the law barring weapons in federal buildings, and “has surely done so in the course of procuring citizenship,” the court concluded, she has not obtained citizenship “contrary to law,” because the relationship between the violation and the acquisition of citizenship “are in that example merely coincidental: The one has no causal relation to the other.”

The court also observed that the rule proposed by the government would open “the door to a world of disquieting consequences,” in which a lie “would always provide a basis for rescinding citizenship,” even if the lie merely resulted from “embarrassment, fear, or a desire for privacy.” Indeed, the court suggested, the government’s rule would give “prosecutors nearly limitless leverage” – something about which several justices, in a wide variety of contexts, have expressed concern recently.

You can read the full opinion here.


  1. says

    I wonder what Anwar Al Awlaki thinks of that.

    It sounds like they basically went “fuckit, just kill him and his kids too while you’re at it.”

  2. Chiroptera says

    Thanks for the news, Mano.

    Just skimming the introduction of the decision, it reads to me like Maslenjak’s case not be completely done yet. It looks like the case can be tried again, except now the government has to show that Maslenjak’s false statements were material in granting her citizenship.

    At any rate, it appears that Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion. It may be interesting to read it and try to get an idea of how he’s going to approach future cases.

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