A naturalized U.S. citizen should not have been stripped of her citizenship for the sole reason that she lied to U.S. officials, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday, vacating a lower court's decision. The plaintiff, an ethnic Serb who entered the U.S. as a refugee, had argued that false answers she gave to immigration officials were immaterial to procuring citizenship.
"We have never read a statute to strip citizenship from someone who met the legal criteria for acquiring it," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the court's opinion. "We will not start now."
The case centers on Divna Maslenjak, who entered the U.S. in 2000 as a refugee along with her husband and their two children. Maslenjak became a naturalized citizen in 2007 — but around the same time, she was found to have lied to U.S. officials when she said her husband had not participated in Bosnia's civil war. In fact, he had served in a brigade that was involved in the notorious Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims in 1995.
During the original trial in a federal district court, a jury was told that making a false statement under oath to a government official was enough to revoke Maslenjak's citizenship because of a law that makes it a crime for a person to "procure" naturalization "contrary to law." After the 6th Circuit court affirmed the decision, the case went to the high court.