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Litigating Citizenship

Posted by on Monday, April 20, 2020 in Articles, Volume 73, Volume 73, Number 3.

Cassandra Burke Robertson & Irina D. Manta | 73 Vand. L. Rev. 757 |

By what standard of proof—and by what procedures—can the U.S. government challenge citizenship status? That question has taken on greater urgency in recent years. News reports discuss cases of individuals whose passports were suddenly denied, even after the government had previously recognized their citizenship for years or even decades. The government has also stepped up efforts to reevaluate the naturalization files of other citizens and has asked for funding to litigate more than a thousand denaturalization cases. Likewise, citizens have gotten swept up in immigration enforcement actions, and thousands of citizens have been erroneously detained or removed from the United States. Most scholarly treatment of citizenship rights has focused on the substantive protection of those rights. But the procedures by which citizenship cases are litigated are just as important—and sometimes more important—to ensure that citizenship rights are safe.

This Article analyzes the due process implications of citizenship litigation in the United States. It examines different stages at which the citizenship question is judicially resolved, including denaturalization, removal and exclusion, and restrictions on the exercise of citizenship rights such as voting, working, and traveling. The Article concludes that the structure of U.S. democracy relies on the stability of citizenship and requires heightened procedural protections when the government challenges an individual’s citizenship. In the words of Justice Frankfurter, “The history of liberty has largely been the history of observance of procedural safeguards.” Those procedural safeguards are needed to ensure that the judicial branch can remain the stalwart protector of a key pillar of our constitutional democracy.

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Cassandra Burke Robertson and Irina D. Manta