Yesterday the court heard oral argument in Maslenjak v. United States, which asks whether a naturalized U.S. citizen can be stripped of her citizenship in a criminal proceeding based on an immaterial false statement. Amy Howe analyzes the argument for this blog. In The New York Times, Adam Liptak reports that several of the “justices seemed taken aback” by the idea “that the government may revoke the citizenship of Americans who made even trivial misstatements in their naturalization proceedings.” Additional coverage of the argument comes from Jess Bravin in The Wall Street Journal, who reports that “[s]kepticism over the Trump administration’s broad view of government power didn’t translate into sympathy for Divna Maslenjak, the Bosnian Serb immigrant who filed the appeal.”From the transcript of oral argument:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: But, scrupulously, I -- I looked at -- on the naturalization form, there is a question. It's Number 22. "Have you ever" -- and they've got "ever" in bold point --
MR. PARKER: Uh-huh.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: -- "committed,
assisted in committing, or attempted to commit a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?" Some time ago, outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone. (Laughter.)
MR. PARKER: I'm sorry to hear that.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I was -- I was not arrested. Now, you say that if I answer that question no, 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, guess what, you're not an American citizen after all.
MR. PARKER: Well --
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Is that right?
MR. PARKER: If -- well, I would say two things. First, that is how the government would interpret that, that it would require you to disclose those sorts of offenses.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Oh, come on. You're saying that on this form, you expect everyone to list every time in which they drove over the speed limit --
MR. PARKER: No.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: -- except when they were arrested.
MR. PARKER: Well, what I think the -- what I think that particular question demonstrates is -- and I will readily acknowledge, number one, that is a very broad question, and, number two, and I think that there is a great deal of ambiguity in what exactly is meant by "crime and offense." And --
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, but just -- it's worse. If you look in Black's --
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: In Black's Law Dictionary, I looked up what's an offense? And this is what it says: It says it's a violation of the law, a crime, often a minor one.
MR. PARKER: Uh-huh.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So you really are looking for the listing of every time somebody drove over the speed limit.