The justices unanimously rejected the government’s position that it could revoke the citizenship of Americans who made even trivial misstatements in their naturalization proceedings.
During arguments in April, several justices seemed indignant and incredulous at the government’s hard-line approach in the case, Maslenjak v. United States, No. 16-309.
They asked about a form that people seeking American citizenship must complete. It requires applicants to say, for instance, whether they had ever committed a criminal offense, however minor, even if there was no arrest. A government lawyer, in response to questioning, said that failing to disclose a speeding violation could be enough to revoke citizenship even years later.
Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan said that the law required a tighter connection between the lie and the procurement of citizenship.
“We hold that the government must establish that an illegal act by the defendant played some role in her acquisition of citizenship,” she wrote. “When the illegal act is a false statement, that means demonstrating that the defendant lied about facts that would have mattered to an immigration official, because they would have justified denying naturalization or would predictably have led to other facts warranting that result.”