1958 March 31

Government Can’t Strip a Person of Citizenship as Punishment


In the case of Trop v. Dulles, decided on this day, the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the government to revoke the citizenship of a U.S. citizen as a form of punishment. While serving in the Army in 1944, Albert Trop escaped from the stockade where he was being held for misbehavior. The next day, he and a companion were walking along the road near Casablanca, Morroco, and were stopped by an Army truck. Trop willingly got into the truck and was returned to the Army base. (Thus, his “desertion” lasted for only some hours.) He was then court martialed and given a dishonorable discharge. In 1952 he applied for a passport and was then informed that, under a 1940 law, he had lost his citizenship because of his dishonorable discharge.

The Court: “Citizenship is not a license that expires upon misbehavior. [emphasis added] The duties of citizenship are numerous, and the discharge of many of these obligations is essential to the security and wellbeing of the Nation. The citizen who fails to pay his taxes or to abide by the laws safeguarding the integrity of elections deals a dangerous blow to his country. But could a citizen be deprived of his nationality for evading these basic responsibilities of citizenship? In time of war, the citizen’s duties include not only the military defense of the Nation, but also full participation in the manifold activities of the civilian ranks. Failure to perform any of these obligations may cause the Nation serious injury, and, in appropriate circumstances, the punishing power is available to deal with derelictions of duty. But citizenship is not lost every time a duty of citizenship is shirked. And the deprivation of citizenship is not a weapon that the Government may use to express its displeasure at a citizen’s conduct, however reprehensible that conduct may be. As long as a person does not voluntarily renounce or abandon his citizenship, and this petitioner has done neither, I believe his fundamental right of citizenship is secure. On this ground alone, the judgment in this case should be reversed.”

Learn more about all the major court decisions regarding citizenship (beginning with the Dred Scott decision): http://www.historycommons.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=civilliberties&civilliberties_privacy=civilliberties_citizenship_rights

Study the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Civics and Citizenship Toolkit here.

Learn more about U.S. citizenship laws and policy here.

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