Facts: Afroyim was born in Poland in 1893, immigrated to the United States in 1912, and became a naturalized American citizen in 1926. He went to Israel in 1950 and voted in an election for the Israeli Knesset (the Israeli legislature) in 1951. According to Section 401(e) of the 1940 Nationality Act, citizens of the United States forfeit their citizenship when they vote in a foreign country's political elections. Therefore, when Afroyim tried to renew his U.S. passport in 1960, the State Department denied his application and informed him that he had forfeited his U.S. citizenship. Afroyim challenged the constitutionality of that part of the Nationality Act, but on the basis of the Perez v. Brownell case, the lower federal court judged in favor of Secretary of State Dean Rusk. A Court of Appeal affirmed that decision.
Issue: Does Congress violate either the Fifth Amendment or 14th Amendment to the Constitution when it removes a person's U.S. citizenship?
Holding: Yes. The 14th Amendment states, "all persons born or naturalized in the United States...are citizens of the United States...." Congress has no "general power, express or implied, to take away an American's citizen's citizenship without his assent." The Constitution gives Congress no express power (in the actual words of the Constitution) to strip people of their citizenship. There is also no implied power (assumed power) to do so in the regulation of foreign affairs. In fact, in the many years before the ratification of the 14th Amendment, Congress rejected three proposals to enact laws that would give Congress the power to determine when it could take away someone's citizenship. The only way a person may "lose" their citizenship is to voluntarily renounce it. Therefore, the court's prior decision in the Perez case is overturned.