Miller v. Albright

LOCATION: United States Department of State

DOCKET NO.: 96-1060
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 523 US 420 (1998)
ARGUED: Nov 04, 1997
DECIDED: Apr 22, 1998

Donald R. Patterson - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Edwin S. Kneedler - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Lorelyn Miller was born in the Philippines, in 1970, to a Filipino national woman and an American soldier. Her parents were never married. In 1992, after the State Department rejected her first application for U.S. citizenship, Miller reapplied when a Texas court granted her father's petition for a paternity decree declaring him her father. When the State Department rejected her citizenship application again, claiming that 8 U.S.C. Section 1409(a) required foreign born illegitimate children of American fathers to be legitimated before age 18, Miller challenged the refusal. She claimed that since Section 1409(c) established at birth the citizenship of an illegitimate foreign-born child whose mother was an American citizen, the State Department's refusal to do the same under Section 1409(a), when the father is an American citizen, was unconstitutional. On appeal from an appellate court's decision to affirm the lower court's dismissal of the case, the Supreme Court granted Miller certiorari.


Does 8 U.S.C. Section 1409, establishing upon birth the U.S. citizenship of illegitimate foreign-born children whose mothers only are U.S. citizens but failing to do the same if only their fathers are U.S. citizens, violate the Fifth Amendment's equal protection guarantees?

Media for Miller v. Albright

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 04, 1997 in Miller v. Albright

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 96-1060, Lorelyn Miller v. Madeleine K. Albright.

Mr. Patterson.

Donald R. Patterson:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The Court granted certiorari in this case on one issue only, whether the gender discrimination provisions in 8 U.S.C. section 1409 violate the Constitution.

The court of appeals felt that this Court's opinion in Fiallo v. Bell was a controlling precedent.

It is our position that Fiallo can be distinguished, but that if the Court feels that it applies, that Fiallo is out of step with the Court's more recent decisions that refuse to sanction official actions that close a door to opportunity based on overbroad generalizations concerning the abilities, or personalities or such, of males and females.

The Immigration & Nationality Act draws some clear distinctions between the naturalization of an individual about whom alienage is not in dispute and those persons who are citizens at birth.

Naturalization is the conferring of nationality of a State upon an individual subsequent to their birth.

Persons who are born overseas to a U.S. citizen are citizens and nationals of the United States at birth.

Am I right, Mr. Patterson, in thinking that your client has never set foot in the United States?

Donald R. Patterson:

My client has set foot in the United States, in fact is presently in the United States, but not at the time that this case was filed and originally came forth, Your Honor.

Thank you.

Donald R. Patterson:

Unlike the person who is seeking naturalization or immigration, Ms. Miller seeks to establish her citizenship by virtue of her birth.

The deference accorded the Congress power over admissions of aliens is inapplicable in dealing with a situation where someone claims citizenship from birth, and we feel there is a clear distinction here, that she has been denied her equal protection rights, and she seeks a finding that she is a citizen at birth, and thus Fiallo can be distinguished.

But how do you say Fiallo is distinguishable in that regard?

Donald R. Patterson:

Fiallo dealt with a situation where there was no question concerning the alienage of the persons involved.

In this case, we claim that my client should have been entitled to citizenship at birth, and therefore it is not an immigration matter but a citizenship matter, and could be distinguished on that basis.

Fiallo could be left to apply in cases in which they were purely immigration.

This case is not so much based on the immigration powers of Congress as it is upon the gender discrimination that is established in this provision.

But you have to have a part of a law of Congress declared unconstitutional in order to establish your client's citizenship, do you not?

Donald R. Patterson:

That is correct, Your Honor.

We feel that--

You say there's no deference to Congress in this respect?

Donald R. Patterson:

--Your Honor, while the Court gives deference to Congress in many areas, the Court has held that it does not... deference does not mean abdication, and that if a statute is violative of the provisions of the Constitution, then that statute cannot stand.

Yes, but I think some of... there's language in some of our cases that say in the field of immigration and nationality we give extraordinary deference to what Congress has decided.

Now, you're saying, I guess, that when you're talking about nationality as opposed to immigration the Congress gets no special deference.

Donald R. Patterson:

I think Congress always gets a certain amount of deference, Your Honor, in any case, because I think the Court normally approaches that they are... Congress is entitled to do what is within its realm, but if it violates... if it provides a provision that deprives people of the equal protection of the Constitution, then that statute cannot stand, and dealing with--

May I just interrupt with a question?

I'm not sure I understood.

Are you saying there is a constitutional entitlement to citizenship at birth?