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Perez v. Brownell

Fourteenth Amendment Guarantee In Jeopardy

In a dissent joined by Justices William Douglas and Hugo Black, Chief Justice Earl Warren stressed that the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to everyone born or naturalized in this country. That right was the basis of all others and could not be taken away. While acknowledging a person's right to voluntarily renounce his citizenship, Warren did not consider voting in a foreign country necessarily harmful. Elections occur for many reasons, and Congress was too broadly insistent that by voting in any foreign election, Americans were in effect renouncing their citizenship.

Historically, until 1928, America had allowed aliens to vote in presidential elections. Before that, 22 states had given aliens the right to vote. By allowing this, Warren argued, the nation did not assume aliens had given up allegiance to their homelands. "How then can we attach such significance to any vote of a United States citizen in a foreign election?"

Almost a decade later, the minority's concerns about unfairly denying citizenship arose again. Afroyim v. Rusk (1967) involved a naturalized citizen who voted in a foreign election. This time, the Court overturned its ruling in Perez, asserting Congress could not under any circumstance take away citizenship without a person's assent. But only four years later, in Rogers v. Bellei, the Court made a distinction between a person born or naturalized in the United States versus a citizen born or naturalized abroad. In this instance, the Court upheld a law that required people born outside the country had to have at least one U.S. parent living in the United States for five consecutive years, or lose their citizenship. The defendant, like Clemente Perez, was stripped of his nationality.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Perez v. Brownell - Significance, Congress Can Seek To Limit "embarrassing" Actions, Fourteenth Amendment Guarantee In Jeopardy