Facts of the Case

Plaintiff’s application for a passport was denied on the ground that under 401(g) of the Nationality Act of 1940, as amended, he had lost his citizenship by reason of his court-martial conviction and dishonorable discharge for wartime desertion. Subsequently, plaintiff commenced the present action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, seeking a declaratory judgment that he was a citizen. The government’s motion for summary judgment was granted and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. Plaintiff appealed.


Did Section 401(g) of the amended 1940 Nationality Act (the Act) allow for an unconstitutional punishment by authorizing the expatriation of a citizen convicted of wartime desertion?


Yes. After finding that Section 401(g) of the amended Act was penal in nature, since it punished convicted deserters with denationalization, the Court held that expatriation was barred by the Eighth Amendment as a cruel and unusual penal remedy. Citizenship, the Court stated, is not a license that expires upon misbehavior. Rather, it can only be voluntarily renounced by express language and, or, conduct. Since Trop did not involve himself in any way with a foreign state, so as to demonstrate disloyalty to the United States, his court martial conviction of desertion did not justify his expatriation.

Case Information

  • Citation: 356 US 86 (1958)
  • Argued: May 2, 1957 Re
  • Argued: Oct 28 – 29, 1957
  • Decided Mar 31, 1958