Chaunt v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 364 US 350 (1960)
ARGUED: Oct 17, 1960
DECIDED: Nov 14, 1960

Joseph Forer - for the Petitioner
Maurice A. Roberts - For the Respondent

Facts of the case

Peter Chaunt, a Hungarian native, came to the United States in 1921 at the age of 22. He became a U.S. citizen in 1940, one year after filing a petition for naturalization with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”). In 1953, the Government filed a complaint, which alleged that Chaunt had concealed and misrepresented his arrest record in his application for citizenship, and sought to revoke his naturalization. The district court held that Chaunt had concealed his membership in the Communist Party and three arrests in Connecticut for distributing handbills, violating park regulations, and committing a breach of the peace. All of the arrests occurred more than ten years prior to Chaunt’s naturalization. The district court cancelled the order granting citizenship to Chaunt, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.


Did the Government meet its standard of proof required under the Immigration and Nationality Act to revoke an order of naturalization?

Media for Chaunt v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 17, 1960 (Part 1) in Chaunt v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 17, 1960 (Part 2) in Chaunt v. United States

Earl Warren:

Mr. Forer, you may proceed.

Joseph Forer:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, Your Honor.

I was saying at the recess that in order to meet the statutory requirement, that a suppression had procured denaturalization.

It follows as logically and inevitably that you have to show one of two things.

Either that the true facts, if disclosed, within themselves have justified the naturalizing court in denying naturalization under the then applicable standards of naturalization or two, that the true facts, if disclosed, would have led to the discovery of other facts, which if known, would have justified the naturalizing court in denying naturalization.

Now, if I'm right and this becomes a crucial issue, then you can't say that a person shall be denaturalized because the suppressed facts, which if disclosed, might have or would have led to an investigation.

Because if I am right, you'll also have to then go on and show that the investigation would have discovered facts which would have justify denaturalization or which you have justified a refusal of naturalization.

If the investigation would have been fruitless, in the sense that it would not have discovered anything to the man's discredit or would not have discovered anything that would have justified denial of naturalization, then the investigation has nothing to do with whether he got naturalization or didn't get naturalization, it therefore has no bearing on whether or not denaturalization was procured by the misrepresentation.

And I -- I think if we will see, that is the principal issue between my position and the opposition of the court below.

And I think my position follows, not only from the language of the statute which says that you can denaturalize only if naturalization was procured by the suppression, but it also follows from the principle which this Court has repeatedly announced, which is in substance that in a denaturalization case, the defendant, denaturalized citizen is given every possible benefit, both on the facts and on the law.

And I think that's particularly important, in view of the fact that there seems to be no statute of limitations and no rule of laches so as to prevent the Government from bringing stale cases many years after naturalization was obtained.

Now, I think it is apparent that if my test of materiality, which I think is the statutory test, is applied to this case, then the -- the judgment below was wrong in holding that the petitioner was rightly denaturalized on the arrest ground.

If you'll look at the statute which set the rules at the time of naturalization, namely the 1906 Naturalization Act, there was only one ground which had any possible relevance to the subject of arrest.

And that was the requirement of the statute that before an alien could be naturalized, he had to be -- be a person who had behaved for the five preceding years as a person of -- of good moral character and attached to the Constitution.

Now, it is perfectly clear that if you use the first branch of my test, that if these arrests had been disclosed, they would not have justified the naturalizing court in holding that the then alien did not meet the requirement of five years good character.

First of all, the arrests were remote.

They were 10 years before the petition not within the five-year period.

Secondly, they had no application to a man's character anyway, since they were for trivial offenses, did not result in convictions and at least two of them were -- were unconstitutional offenses.

And the Court of Appeals did not claim and did not hold that the arrest, if they had been divulged, would have justified the denial of naturalization.

So, I think we can -- I can get safely pass the first prong of my test of materiality.

This leads to the next -- the next branch of my test, and that is, did the suppression of the arrest result in suppressing facts, which if known or if discovered, would have other facts, which if discovered, would have justified the denial of naturalization.

Now, in the first place, the Court of Appeals didn't claim that that was the situation either.

The Court of Appeals said, in their opinion and it's perfectly clear, and this is at pages 95 and 96 of the record.

The Court of Appeals said the only thing that mattered was that the falsification blocked an investigation and it didn't make any difference, what the investigation would have discovered.

And it didn't make any difference that if the investigation had been held, nevertheless, naturalization might have been granted.

Now, for the reasons I've already gone into, that seems to be clearly wrong.

So, let's come now to a -- to apply the correct test, which is, would the investigation have disclosed a disqualifying factor to the facts.

The only testimony in the record on this subject was offered by the Government's witness, the hearing examiner, the -- for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a man by the name of Derringer, and I quote this testimony in full, beginning at the bottom of page 17 and running on to page 18 of my brief.

And Derringer testified that if a person had an arrest record, an investigation would follow but he testified that the only thing the investigation would do, would be to verify the facts concerning the arrest.

And that's what he said, would be just to check whether or not the listing of arrest, for instance, had been accurate and complete.