CNN: “ Supreme Court narrows grounds for revoking citizenship of naturalized citizens”

by Joseph McKeown

The Supreme Court last week issued a ruling narrowing the grounds on which naturalized citizens can have their citizenship revoked. The case involved Divna Maslenjak, an ethnic Serb who arrived in the US in 2000 as a refugee and was granted citizenship and later naturalized; however, in 2013, a jury found her guilty of making false statements on her naturalization application. She was subsequently stripped of citizenship.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Maslenjak, stating that the illegal act had to be material or causal to eligibility for citizenship. Justice Elena Kagan writes: "If whatever illegal conduct occurring within the naturalization process was a causal dead-end—if, so to speak, the ripples from that act could not have reached the decision to award citizenship—then the act cannot support a charge that the applicant obtained naturalization illegally.” The government had argued that it could strip citizenship to anyone who lied during the naturalization process, even if the lie was not significant to the decision to grant naturalization. 

During arguments for the case, Chief Justice John Roberts reviewed a naturalization form used by US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and was concerned how broad the questions were and the impact the government's position could have if applicants did not fully answer every single question. He pointed out the government's position could lead to "prosecutorial abuse." The case has been remanded back to the lower courts. Maslenjak now has the chance to challenge the materiality of her false statements to determine the status of her citizenship.