Rogers v. Bellei, 401 US 815 – Supreme Court 1971

Rogers v. Bellei, 401 US 815 – Supreme Court 1971

In this case both sides accept that children born abroad to citizen parents do so through naturalization by statute.

Mr. Justice Gray has observed that the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment was “declaratory of existing 830*830 rights, and affirmative of existing law,” so far as the qualifications of being born in the United States, being naturalized in the United States, and being subject to its jurisdiction are concerned. United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U. S., at 688. Then follows a most significant sentence:

“But it [the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment] has not touched the acquisition of citizenship by being born abroad of American parents; and has left that subject to be regulated, as it had always been, by Congress, in the exercise of the power conferred by the Constitution to establish an uniform rule of naturalization.”

In the dissent, the judges point out how any other modes of acquiring citizenship than birth on soil are forms of naturalization, constitutionally speaking.


The Court in Wong Kim Ark thus stated a broad and comprehensive definition of naturalization. As shown in Wong Kim Ark, naturalization when used in its constitutional sense is a generic term describing and including within its meaning all those modes of acquiring American citizenship other than birth in this country. All means of obtaining American citizenship which are dependent upon a congressional enactment are forms of naturalization. This inclusive definition has been adopted in several opinions of this Court besides United States v. Wong Kim Ark, supra. Thus in Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162, 167 (1875), the Court said: “Additions might always be made to the citizenship of the United States in two ways: first, by birth, and second, by naturalization. . . . [N]ew citizens may be born or they may be created by naturalization.” And in Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U. S. 94 (1884), the Court took the position that the Fourteenth Amendment

“contemplates two sources of citizenship, and two sources only: birth and naturalization. . . . Persons 842*842 not . . . subject to the jurisdiction of the United States at the time of birth cannot become so afterwards, except by being naturalized, either individually, as by proceedings under the naturalization acts, or collectively, as by the force of a treaty by which foreign territory is acquired.” 112 U. S., at 101-102.