Supreme Court strikes down gender inequality in citizenship law

Supreme Court strikes down gender inequality in citizenship law

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 8-0 Monday in Sessions v. Morales-Santana [SCOTUSblog materials] that a gender-based differential in the US citizenship law concerning children born abroad violates the constitution. When a child is born abroad and one parent is a US citizen and the other is a citizen of another nation, the Immigration and Nationality Act allows the US-citizen parent to pass citizenship to the child if they have been physically present in the US for 10 years prior to the child’s birth. This applies to married parents as well as unwed US citizen fathers. However, section 1409(c) [text] created an exception for unwed mothers, requiring only a year’s physical presence. In an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court found that this violates the Equal Protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment: “We hold that the gender line Congress drew is incompatible with the requirement that the Government accord to all persons ‘the equal protection of the laws.” Justice Clarence Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part, in which Justice Samuel Alito joined. Justice Neil Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Luis Ramon Morales-Santana was born in the Dominican Republic to unmarried parents, his father being a US citizen. When deportation proceedings began, he challenged the statute as a violation of equal protection because if his mother had been a US citizen, she would only have had to live in the US for one year to pass her citizenship to him. Monday’s ruling, however, may not aid him, as the court declined to extend the one-year exception to unmarried fathers: “We must therefore leave it to Congress to select, going forward, a physical-presence requirement (ten years, one year, or some other period) uniformly applicable to all children born abroad with one U.S.-citizen and one alien parent, wed or unwed.”