Supreme Court Justice Argues for Heightened Scrutiny of Discriminatory Citizenship Laws

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court has taken a stand against federal immigration laws that treat unwed fathers and mothers differently. Presently, it is easier for children born to US-citizen mothers to obtain automatic citizenship compared to those born to fathers. Justice Ginsburg said that such discriminatory laws were not only outdated but also unconstitutional.


Ginsburg made the ruling in a case brought forth by Luis Ramon Morales-Santana who sought to gain automatic US citizenship similar to those enjoyed by children born to US mothers since his father was a US citizen. Luis Ramon argued that children in similar situations as him should have their US citizenship determined by the same laws used for US-citizen mothers. However, Justice Ginsburg failed to uphold Louis Ramon’s request.


Unfair Application of Federal Immigration Laws


Writing for the court, Ginsburg noted that the Immigration and Nationality Act laws that dictated requirements for children born abroad to unwed parents were outdated. She said that the 1940 laws were written in an era that had overbroad generalizations of women and men. She continued that, today, such laws must be subject to closer scrutiny.


Under the present immigration laws, a child born outside the US to an unwed US-citizen father can only automatically become a citizen at birth if their father had lived in the country for ten years, five of which should be after he turned 14. On the other hand, a child born to a US-citizen mother automatically becomes a citizen if their mother hand spent only one year in the country.


Justice Ginsburg said that taking into consideration the equal protection jurisprudence developed by the court since 1971, the different treatment of unwed fathers and mothers under the context of immigration law citizenship was stunningly anachronistic. She, however, failed to hold that children born to US-citizen fathers should be eligible to use the same standard applied to US-citizen mothers. She wrote that moving forward, Congress should address the issue and come up with a uniform prescription that does not discriminate persons based on gender.