ArtI.S8.C4.1.5.4 Unlawful Procurement of Citizenship

Article I, Section 8, Clause 4:

[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States; . . .

In Schneiderman v. United States, the Supreme Court in 1943 considered a legal challenge by a U.S. citizen, William Schneiderman, to his denaturalization under the 1906 Act based on the charge that he had “illegally procured” his citizenship by failing to disclose his membership in the Communist Party.1 The government had argued that Schneiderman’s membership in the Communist Party disqualified him from naturalization because he was not “attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same.” 2

The Supreme Court held that, in a denaturalization proceeding, “the facts and the law should be construed as far as is reasonably possible in favor of the citizen,” and that the government bears the burden of presenting “'clear, unequivocal, and convincing’” evidence that citizenship was unlawfully procured, rather than “'a bare preponderance of evidence which leaves the issue in doubt.’” 3 Applying this standard, the Court determined that Congress, in creating the “attachment to the Constitution” requirement for naturalization, had intended to deny naturalization to those who advocated the use of force or violence against the government, but not to those who simply subscribed to certain principles or beliefs, however unpopular or “distasteful.” 4 The Court ruled that Schneiderman’s membership in the Communist Party failed to clearly establish that he was not “attached to the principles of the Constitution” because there was no evidence that he advocated the use of violence against the government.5

320 U.S. 118, 121–22 (1943). back
Id. at 129; see Naturalization Act of 1906, ch. 3592, § 4, 34 Stat. 596, 598 (requiring naturalization applicant to show that “he has behaved as a man of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same.” ). back
Schneiderman, 320 U.S. at 122–23, 125 (quoting United States v. Maxwell Land-Grant Co., 121 U.S. 325, 381 (1887)); see also Fedorenko v. United States, 449 U.S. 490, 505–06 (1981) ( “Any less exacting standard would be inconsistent with the importance of the right that is at stake in a denaturalization proceeding.” ). back
Schneiderman, 320 U.S. at 136, 157–59. While recognizing that “naturalization is a privilege, to be given or withheld on such conditions as Congress sees fit,” the Court warned that “we certainly will not presume in construing the naturalization and denaturalization acts that Congress meant to circumscribe liberty of political thought by general phrases in those statutes.” Id. at 131–32. In particular, the Court explained that “[t]here is a material difference between agitation and exhortation calling for present violent action which creates a clear and present danger of public discord or other substantive evil, and mere doctrineal justification or prediction of the use of force under hypothetical conditions at some indefinite future time-prediction that is not calculated or intended to be presently acted upon, thus leaving opportunity for general discussion and the calm processes of thought and reason.” Id. at 157–58. back
Id. at 134–36, 142, 146, 160–61. The Court held, moreover, that where there are two possible interpretations of a political organization’s platform, one of which may preclude naturalization, a court may not simply impute the “reprehensible interpretation” to a member of the organization without further evidence. Id. at 158–59. See also Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U.S. 665, 677 (1944) (ruling that statements made by a naturalized U.S. citizen showing admiration for Nazi government did not clearly show that he lacked allegiance to the United States and had thus procured his citizenship through fraud, because such statements were made after he had naturalized and were nothing more than “the expression of silly or even sinister-sounding views which native-born citizens utter with impunity” ). back