ELKINS V. MORENO, 435 U. S. 647 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Elkins v. Moreno, 435 U.S. 647 (1978)

Elkins v. Moreno

No. 77-154

Argued February 22, 1978

Decided April 19, 1978

435 U.S. 647


It is the policy of the University of Maryland to grant "in-state" status for admission, tuition, and charge-differential purposes only to students who are domiciled in Maryland or, if a student is financially dependent on his parents, whose parents are domiciled in Maryland. In addition, the University may in some cases deny in-state status to students who do not pay the full spectrum of Maryland state taxes. Pursuant to this policy, the University refused to grant in-state status to respondent nonimmigrant alien students, each of whom was dependent on a parent who held a "G-4 visa" (a nonimmigrant visa granted to officers or employees of international treaty organizations and members of their immediate families) and each of whom was named in that visa, on the ground that the holder of a G-4 visa cannot acquire Maryland domicile because such a visa holder is incapable of demonstrating an essential element of domicile -- the intent to live permanently or indefinitely in Maryland. After unsuccessful appeals through University channels, respondents brought a class action in the Federal District Court for declaratory and injunctive relief against the University and its President (petitioner), alleging that the University's refusal to grant them in-state status violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court granted relief, but limited it to a declaration and injunction restraining the President from denying respondents the opportunity to establish in-state status solely because of an "irrebuttable presumption of non-domicile." The court held that such an irrebuttable presumption violated the Due Process Clause, finding that reasonable alternative procedures were available to make the crucial domicile determination and rejecting the University's claim that the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and Maryland common law precluded G-4 aliens from forming the intent necessary to acquire domicile. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. Although the University may consider factors other than domicile in granting in-state status, the record shows that respondents were denied such status because of the University's determination that G-4

Page 435 U. S. 648

aliens could not form the intent needed to acquire Maryland domicile. Therefore, this case is controlled by principles announced in Vlandis v. Kline, 412 U. S. 441, as limited by Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U. S. 749, 422 U. S. 771, to those situations in which a State

"purport[s] to be concerned with [domicile, but] at the same time den[ies] to one seeking to meet its test of [domicile] the opportunity to show factors clearly bearing on that issue."

Pp. 435 U. S. 658-660.

2. Before considering whether Vlandis, supra, should be overruled or further limited, proper concern for stare decisis as well as the Court's longstanding policy of avoiding unnecessary constitutional decisions requires that the necessity of a constitutional decision be shown, and no such showing has been made here, because a potentially dispositive issue, the determination whether the University's irrebuttable presumption is universally true, turns on federal statutory law and state common law as to which there are no controlling precedents. Pp. 435 U. S. 660-662.

3. Under federal law, G-4 aliens have the legal capacity to change domicile. Pp. 435 U. S. 663-668.

(a) In the Immigration and Nationality Act, which was intended to be a comprehensive and complete code governing all aspects of admission of aliens to the United States, Congress expressly required that an immigrant seeking admission under certain nonimmigrant classifications maintain a permanent residence abroad which he has no intention of abandoning. Congress did not impose this restriction on G-4 aliens, and, given the comprehensive nature of the Act, the conclusion is inescapable that Congress' failure to impose such restrictions was deliberate and manifests a willingness to allow G-4 aliens to adopt the United States as their domicile (a willingness confirmed by Immigration and Naturalization Service regulations). But whether such an adoption would confer domicile in a State is a question to be decided by the State. Pp. 435 U. S. 663-666.

(b) Under present federal law, therefore, a G-4 alien will not violate the Act, INS regulations, or the terms of his visa if he develops a subjective intent to st-ay in the United States indefinitely. Moreover, although a G-4 visa lapses on termination of employment with an international treaty organization, a G-4 alien would not necessarily have to leave the United States. There being no indication that the named respondents are subject to any adverse factor, such as fraudulent entry into, or commission of crime in, the United States, and given each named respondent's alleged length of residence (ranging from 5 to 15 years) in the country, it would appear that the status of each of them

Page 435 U. S. 649

could be adjusted to that of a permanent resident without difficulty. Pp. 435 U. S. 666-668.

4. Because of the Court's conclusions with respect to federal law, the question whether G-4 aliens can become domiciliaries of Maryland is potentially dispositive of this case and, since such question is purely a matter of state law on which there is no controlling precedent, the question is certified to the Maryland Court of Appeals for determination. Pp. 435 U. S. 668-669.

556 F.2d 573, question certified.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,joined, post, p. 435 U. S. 669.

Page 435 U. S. 650

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