In construing a statute, whatever was said or given prominence
in debate gives way to its actual language as passed; all reasons
that induced its enactment and all of its purposes must be supposed
to be satisfied and expressed by its words as finally enacted.
Under the Constitution, every person born in the United States
is a citizen thereof.
The provisions in § 3 of the Citizenship Act of March 2, 1907,
that any American woman who marries a foreigner takes the
nationality of her husband, is not limited as to place or effect
prior to the termination of the marital relation.
Where an act of Congress is explicit and circumstantial, as is §
3 of the Citizenship Act of 1907, it would transcend judicial power
to insert limitations or conditions upon disputable
Whatever may have been the law of England and the original law
of this country as to perpetual allegiance of persons to the land
of their birth, Congress by the Act of 1868, now Rev.Stat. 1999,
explicitly declared the right of expatriation to have been the law.
The identity of husband and wife is an ancient principle of our
jurisdiction, and is still retained notwithstanding much relaxation
Page 239 U. S. 300
and while it has purpose, if not necessity, in domestic policy,
it has greater purpose, and possibly greater necessity, in
As a government, the United States is invested with all the
attributes of sovereignty, and has the character and powers of
nationality, especially those concerning relations and intercourse
with foreign powers.
Citizenship is of tangible worth, but the possessor thereof may
voluntarily renounce it even though Congress may not be able to
arbitrarily impose such renunciation.
Marriage of an American woman with a foreigner may involve
national complications of like kind as physical expatriation may
involve and is therefore within the control of Congress.
Marriage of an American woman with a foreigner is tantamount to
voluntary expatriation, and Congress may, without exceeding its
powers, make it so, as it has in fact done, by the Act of March 2,
165 Cal. 776 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the construction and constitutionality
of the Citizenship Act of March 2, 1907, and the status as to
citizenship of a woman born under the jurisdiction of the United
States and married to a native of a foreign state but residing in
the United States, are stated in the opinion.
Page 239 U. S. 305
MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the Court.
Mandamus prosecuted by plaintiff in error as petitioner against
defendants in error, respondents, as and composing
Page 239 U. S. 306
the Board of Election Commissioners of the City and County of
San Francisco, to compel her registration as a qualified voter of
the city and county in the appropriate precinct therein.
An alternative writ was issued, but a permanent writ was denied
upon demurrer to the petition.
The facts are not in dispute and are stated by Mr. Justice Shaw,
who delivered the opinion of the court, as follows:
"The plaintiff was born and ever since has resided in the State
of California. On August 14, 1909, being then a resident and
citizen of this state and of the United States, she was lawfully
married to Gordon Mackenzie, a native and subject of the kingdom of
Great Britain. He had resided in California prior to that time,
still resides here, and it is his intention to make this state his
permanent residence. He has not become naturalized as a citizen of
the United States, and it does not appear that he intends to do so.
Ever since their marriage, the plaintiff and her husband have lived
together as husband and wife. On January 22, 1913, she applied to
the defendants to be registered as a voter. She was then over the
age of twenty-one years, and had resided in San Francisco for more
than ninety days. Registration was refused to her on the ground
that, by reason of her marriage to Gordon Mackenzie, a subject of
Great Britain, she thereupon took the nationality of her husband
and ceased to be a citizen of the United States."
Plaintiff in error claims a right as a voter of the state under
its Constitution and the Constitution of the United States.
The Constitution of the state gives the privilege of suffrage to
"every native citizen of the United States," and it is contended
that, under the Constitution of the United States, every person
born in the United States is a citizen thereof. The latter must be
conceded, and if
Page 239 U. S. 307
plaintiff has not lost her citizenship by her marriage, she has
the qualification of a voter prescribed by the Constitution of the
State of California. The question then is did she cease to be a
citizen by her marriage?
On March 2, 1907, that is, prior to the marriage of plaintiff in
error, Congress enacted a statute the third section of which
"That any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the
nationality of her husband. At the termination of the marital
relation, she may resume her American citizenship, if abroad, by
registering as an American citizen within one year with a consul of
the United States, or by returning to reside in the United States,
or, if residing in the United States at the termination of the
marital relation, by continuing to reside therein."
Plaintiff contends that "such legislation, if intended to apply
to her, is beyond the authority of Congress."
Questions of construction and power are therefore presented.
Upon the construction of the act, it is urged that it was not the
intention to deprive an American-born woman, remaining within the
jurisdiction of the United States, of her citizenship by reason of
her marriage to a resident foreigner. The contention is attempted
to be based upon the history of the act and upon the report of the
committee, upon which, it is said, the legislation was enacted.
Both history and report show, it is asserted, "that the intention
of Congress was solely to legislate concerning the status of
citizens abroad and the questions arising by reason thereof."
Does the act invite or permit such assistance? Its declaration
is general, "that any American woman who marries a foreigner shall
take the nationality of her husband." There is no limitation of
place; there is no limitation of effect, the marital relation
having been constituted and continuing. For its termination there
is provision, and explicit provision. At its termination, she may
Page 239 U. S. 308
her American citizenship if in the United States by simply
remaining therein; if abroad, by returning to the United States,
or, within one year, registering as an American citizen. The act is
therefore explicit and circumstantial. It would transcend judicial
power to insert limitations or conditions upon disputable
considerations of reasons which impelled the law, or of conditions
to which it might be conjectured it was addressed and intended to
Whatever was said in the debates on the bill or in the reports
concerning it preceding its enactment or during its enactment must
give way to its language -- or, rather, all the reasons that
induced its enactment and all of its purposes must be supposed to
be satisfied and expressed by its words, and it makes no difference
that in discussion some may have been given more prominence than
others, seemed more urgent and insistent than others, presented the
mischief intended to be remedied more conspicuously than
The application of the law thus being determined, we pass to a
consideration of its validity.
An earnest argument is presented to demonstrate its invalidity.
Its basis is that the citizenship of plaintiff was an incident to
her birth in the United States, and, under the Constitution and
laws of the United States, it became a right, privilege, and
immunity which could not be taken away from her except as a
punishment for crime or by her voluntary expatriation.
The argument to support the contention and the argument to
oppose it take a wide range through the principles of the common
law and international law and their development and change. Both
plaintiff and defendants agree that, under the common law
originally, allegiance was immutable. They do not agree as to when
the rigidity of the principle was relaxed. Plaintiff in error
contests the proposition, which she attributes to defendants in
Page 239 U. S. 309
"that the doctrine of perpetual allegiance maintained by England
was accepted by the United States," but contends "that the
prevalent doctrine of this country always has been that a citizen
had a right to expatriate himself," and cites cases to show that
expatriation is a natural and inherent right.
Whether this was originally the law of this country or became
such by inevitable evolution it is not important to inquire. The
first view has certainly high authority for its support. In
3 Pet. 242, 28 U. S. 246
Mr. Justice Story, delivering the judgment of the Court, said:
"The general doctrine is, that no persons can by any act of
their own, without the consent of the government, put off their
allegiance, and become aliens."
And Kent, in his Commentaries, after a historical review of the
principle and discussion in the federal courts, declares that
"the better opinion would seem to be, that a citizen cannot
renounce his allegiance to the United States without the permission
of government to be declared by law, and that, as there is no
existing legislative regulation on the case, the rule of the
English common law remains unaltered."
2 Kent, 14th ed., 49. The deduction would seem to have been
repelled by the naturalization laws, and it was certainly opposed
to executive opinion, and, we may say, popular sentiment, so
determined that it sought its vindication by war. Further
discussion would lead us far afield, and, besides, would only have
historical interest. *
which Kent suggested has occurred; there is a legislative
declaration. In 1868, Congress explicitly declared the right of
expatriation to have been and to be the law. And the declaration
was, in effect, said to be the dictate of necessity.
Page 239 U. S. 310
The act recites that emigrants have been received and invested
with citizenship in recognition of the principle of the right of
expatriation, and that there should be a prompt and final disavowal
of the claim "that such American citizens, with their descendants,
are subjects of foreign states." Rev.Stats. § 1999.
But plaintiff says, "Expatriation is evidenced only by
emigration, coupled with other acts indicating an intention to
transfer one's allegiance." And all the acts must be voluntary,
"the result of a fixed determination to change the domicil and
permanently reside elsewhere, as well as to throw off the former
allegiance and become a citizen or subject of a foreign power."
The right and the condition of its exercise being thus defined,
it is said that the authority of Congress is limited to giving its
consent. This is variously declared and emphasized. "No act of the
legislature," plaintiff says, "can denationalize a citizen without
his concurrence," citing Burkett v. McCarty,
10 Bush, 758.
"And the sovereign cannot discharge a subject from his allegiance
against his consent except by disfranchisement as a punishment for
crime," citing Ainslie v. Martin,
9 Mass. 454. "The
Constitution does not authorize Congress to enlarge or abridge the
rights of citizens," citing Osborn v. Bank of United
9 Wheat. 738.
"The power of naturalization vested in Congress by the
Constitution is a power to confer citizenship, not a power to take
it away. . . . The Fourteenth Amendment, while it leaves the power
where it was before, in Congress, to regulate naturalization, has
conferred no authority upon Congress to restrict the effect of
birth declared by the Constitution to constitute a sufficient and
complete right to citizenship,"
citing United States v. Wong Kim Ark,
169 U.S. at p.
169 U. S.
It will thus be seen that plaintiff's contention is in exact
antagonism to the statute. Only voluntary expatriation,
Page 239 U. S. 311
as she defines it, can devest a woman of her citizenship, she
declares; the statute provides that, by marriage with a foreigner,
she takes his nationality.
It would make this opinion very voluminous to consider in detail
the argument and the cases urged in support of or in attack upon
the opposing conditions. Their foundation principles, we may
assume, are known. The identity of husband and wife is an ancient
principle of our jurisprudence. It was neither accidental nor
arbitrary, and worked in many instances for her protection. There
has been, it is true, much relaxation of it, but in its retention,
as in its origin, it is determined by their intimate relation and
unity of interests, and this relation and unity may make it of
public concern in many instances to merge their identity, and give
dominance to the husband. It has purpose if not necessity in purely
domestic policy; it has greater purpose, and, it may be, necessity,
in international policy. And this was the dictate of the act in
controversy. Having this purpose, has it not the sanction of
Plaintiff contends, as we have seen, that it has not, and bases
her contention upon the absence of an express gift of power. But
there may be powers implied, necessary or incidental to the
expressed powers. As a government, the United States is invested
with all the attributes of sovereignty. As it has the character of
nationality, it has the powers of nationality, especially those
which concern its relations and intercourse with other countries.
We should hesitate long before limiting or embarrassing such
powers. But monition is not necessary in the present case. There
need be no dissent from the cases cited by plaintiff; there need be
no assertion of very extensive power over the right of citizenship
or of the imperative imposition of conditions upon it. It may be
conceded that a change of citizenship cannot be arbitrarily imposed
-- that is, imposed without the concurrence of the citizen. The law
in controversy does not have that feature. It deals with
Page 239 U. S. 312
a condition voluntarily entered into, with notice of the
consequences. We concur with counsel that citizenship is of
tangible worth, and we sympathize with plaintiff in her desire to
retain it and in her earnest assertion of it. But there is involved
more than personal considerations. As we have seen, the legislation
was urged by conditions of national moment. And this is an answer
to the apprehension of counsel that our construction of the
legislation will make every act, though lawful, as marriage, of
course, is, a renunciation of citizenship. The marriage of an
American woman with a foreigner has consequences of like kind, may
involve national complications of like kind, as her physical
expatriation may involve. Therefore, as long as the relation lasts,
it is made tantamount to expatriation. This is no arbitrary
exercise of government. It is one which, regarding the
international aspects, judicial opinion has taken for granted would
not only be valid, but demanded. It is the conception of the
legislation under review that such an act may bring the government
into embarrassments, and, it may be, into controversies. It is as
voluntary and distinctive as expatriation, and its consequence must
be considered as elected.
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS is of opinion that this Court is without
jurisdiction, and that therefore this writ of error should be
* The course of opinion and decision is set forth in Van Dyne's
"Citizenship of the United States," and in his "Naturalization in
the United States." Moore's Digest of International Law. See
Cookburn on Nationality.