Rogers v. Bellei – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Rogers v. Bellei, 401 U.S. 815, 91 S. Ct. 1060, 28 L. Ed. 2d 499 (1971).
Section 301(a) of the Immigration and Nationality act of 1952 provides that persons born abroad having one alien parent and one parent who is a citizen of the United States are nationals and citizens of the United States at birth. Section 301(b) however provides that such a person shall lose his United States citizenship unless he is physically present within the United States continuously for at least five years between the ages of 14 and 28.
Aldo Mario Bellei (P) was born in Italy to an American mother and an Italian father. Bellei was issued a United States passport when he was eleven years old and visited the United States several times. His was warned of the requirements under the Act the last time he successfully renewed his passport before losing his citizenship.
Bellei registered with the American Consul in Rome in compliance with United States Selective Service laws and took and passed an army physical examination. He received several additional warnings that he was in danger of losing his citizenship. Soon after he turned 24 he was advised orally by the American Embassy in Rome that he had lost his citizenship for failure to satisfy the residency requirement.
Bellei brought suit against Secretary of State William P. Rogers (D) seeking a declaratory judgment that Section 301(b) of the Act is unconstitutional for violating the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment’s Punishment Clause, and the Ninth Amendment. Bellei also sought injunctive relief to enjoin Rogers from enforcing the act against him.
A three-judge District Court panel cited Afroyim v. Rusk and Schneider v. Rusk in holding that Section 301(b) of the Act was unconstitutional and Bellei’s motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.
- Does Congress have the power to revoke the citizenship of a non-naturalized citizen of the United States by imposing conditions subsequent regarding residency?
Holding and Rule (Blackmun)
- Yes. Congress has the power to revoke the citizenship of a non-naturalized citizen of the United States by imposing conditions subsequent regarding residency.
Congress has the power to impose conditions subsequent regarding residence upon the citizenship of those born outside the United States. The plaintiff is not covered by the Fourteenth Amendment which defines “citizen” as one who is “born or naturalized in the United States”.
The central factor in our weighing of the plaintiff’s claim to United States citizenship is that he was neither born nor naturalized in the United States and has not been subject to its jurisdiction. The first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment therefore does not apply to Bellei. The plaintiff’s claim must therefore rest on some restriction of the power of Congress other than the Fourteenth Amendment.
Our law in this area follows the English concept of jus soli; the place of birth governs citizenship status except as modified by statute. Congress has an appropriate concern regarding dual nationality. The provisions of the Act imposing conditions subsequent on citizenship are not unreasonable, arbitrary, or unlawful. The Act is not an unconstitutional exercise of power by Congress.
The Court today holds that Congress can indeed rob a citizen of his citizenship just so long as five members of this Court can satisfy themselves that the congressional action was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or unlawful. This test does not appear in the Constitution.
The Court today is overruling its holding in Afroyim that no one can be deprived of citizenship without his assent. This meaning of citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment should not be blown around by every passing political wind that changes the composition of this Court.