VANCE V. TERRAZAS, 444 U. S. 252 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Vance v. Terrazas, 444 U.S. 252 (1980)

Vance v. Terrazas

No. 71143

Argued October 30, 1979

Decided January 15, 1980

444 U.S. 252


Section 349(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides that

"a person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by . . . taking an oath or making an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof."

Section 349(c) provides that the party claiming that such loss of citizenship occurred must "establish such claim by a preponderance of the evidence," and that a person who commits any act of expatriation

"shall be presumed to have done so voluntarily, but such presumption may be rebutted upon a showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the act or acts committed or performed were not done voluntarily."

Appellee, who was a citizen of both the United States and Mexico at birth, subsequently obtained a certificate of Mexican citizenship after executing an application in which he swore allegiance to Mexico and expressly renounced his United States citizenship. Thereafter, the Department of State issued a certificate of loss of nationality, and the Board of Appellate Review of the Department of State affirmed. Appellee then brought suit for a declaration of his United States nationality, but the District Court concluded that the United States had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that appellee had knowingly and voluntarily taken an oath of allegiance to Mexico and renounced allegiance to the United States, thus voluntarily relinquishing United States citizenship pursuant to § 349(a)(2). The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that Congress had no power to legislate the evidentiary standard contained in § 349(c), and that the Constitution required that proof be not merely by a preponderance of the evidence, but by "clear, convincing and unequivocal evidence."


1. In establishing loss of citizenship, the Government must prove an intent to surrender United States citizenship, not just the voluntary commission of an expatriating act such as swearing allegiance to a foreign nation. Congress does not have any general power to take away an American citizen's citizenship without his "assent," which means an intent to relinquish citizenship, whether the intent is expressed in

Page 444 U. S. 253

words or is found as a fair inference from his conduct. The expatriating acts specified in § 349(a) cannot be treated as conclusive evidence of the indispensable voluntary assent of the citizen. The trier of fact must, in the end, conclude that the citizen not only voluntarily committed the expatriating act prescribed in the statute, but also intended to relinquish his citizenship. Cf. Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U. S. 253. Pp. 444 U. S. 258-263.

2. However, the Constitution permits Congress to prescribe the standard of proof in expatriation proceedings. The specific evidentiary standard provided in § 349(c) is not invalid under either the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Although the Due Process Clause imposes requirements of proof beyond a preponderance of the evidence in criminal and involuntary commitment contexts, nevertheless expatriation proceedings are civil in nature, and do not threaten a loss of liberty, and thus Congress did not exceed its powers by requiring proof of an intentional expatriating act by only a preponderance of evidence. Pp. 444 U. S. 264-267.

3. Nor is the presumption of voluntariness provided in § 349(c) constitutionally infirm. While the statute provides that any of the statutory expatriating acts, if proved, is presumed to have been committed voluntarily, it does not also direct a presumption that the act has been performed with the intent to relinquish United States citizenship, which matter remains the burden of the party claiming expatriation to prove by a preponderance of the evidence. Section 349(c) and its legislative history make clear that Congress preferred the ordinary rule that voluntariness of an act is presumed and that duress is an affirmative defense to be proved by the party asserting it, and to invalidate the rule here would give the Citizenship Clause far more scope in this context than the relevant circumstances that brought the Fourteenth Amendment into being would suggest appropriate. Pp. 444 U. S. 267-270.

577 F.2d 7, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., post, p. 444 U. S. 270, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 444 U. S. 272, filed opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part II of which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 444 U. S. 274. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 444 U. S. 270.

Page 444 U. S. 254

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