Perez v. Brownell (1958)

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Facts: In 1909, Perez was born in Texas, which made him a U.S. citizen. At age 10, he moved with his parents to Mexico, where he lived for another 24 years. In 1928, he learned of his U.S. citizenship. Starting in 1943, he entered the United States on different occasions while claiming Mexican citizenship. He returned to Mexico each time. In 1947, he applied for admission claiming U.S. citizenship. He admitted to immigration authorities, however, that he had stayed in Mexico (and had previously claimed Mexican citizenship) to avoid the U.S. military draft and that he had voted in elections in Mexico. Officials denied his entry into the United States. Perez returned again, however, for temporary agricultural work in 1952. This time, he claimed Mexican citizenship. A year later, he surrendered to law enforcement in San Francisco. Immigration authorities denied Perez's U.S. citizenship and sought to deport him. The authorities declared that Perez had lost his citizenship. They cited the Nationality Act of 1940, which stated:

A person who is a national of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by:
. . . . .

(e) Voting in a political election in a foreign state or participating in an election or plebiscite to determine the sovereignty over foreign territory; or
. . . . .

"(j) Departing from or remaining outside of the jurisdiction of the United States in time of war or during a period declared by the President to be a period of national emergency for the purpose of evading or avoiding training and service in the land or naval forces of the United States.

Issue: Can Congress, using its power to regulate foreign relations, declare that people who vote in a foreign political election shall lose their citizenship?

Holding: Yes. The U.S. Supreme Court by a 6-3 vote ruled that the power of Congress to regulate foreign relations can reasonably be interpreted to mean that Congress can impose consequences on American citizens who vote in foreign elections. Such activities by U.S. citizens might lead to "serious embarrassments to the government of their own country [the U.S.] as well as to their fellow citizens." The necessary and proper clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause18) gives Congress the power to take away someone's U.S. citizenship if the person votes in a foreign political election. This type of action by Congress is "reasonably calculated to effect...the avoidance of embarrassment in the conduct of our foreign relations...." The 14th Amendment does not restrict Congress from having the power to withdraw U.S. citizenship, though there are limitations. In this case, the Supreme Court did not address the issue of Perez's avoidance of the military draft.

NOTE: The case is no longer good law. The Supreme Court overruled it nine years later in Afroyim v. Rusk.