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US Supreme Court strikes down gender differences in citizenship law


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg relied in part on gender equality cases she brought as a pioneering civil rights lawyer Monday as the Supreme Court struck a law that treats unwed mothers and fathers differently when granting citizenship to their children born overseas. The Supreme Court today ruled that one of the last remaining federal laws treating men and women differently violates equal protection.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, concurred only in the court's judgment that Morales-Santana should not be able to get the relief he sought - citizenship by applying the one-year rule for unwed mothers to fathers. The court said tougher — not easier — standards for attaining citizenship should apply to everyone.

Popular Video This young teenage singer was shocked when Keith Urban invited her on stage at his concert. But an American mother must only have lived in the USA continuously for one year to meet the requirement.

Leaving the five-year requirement intact, for now, did not help Luis Ramón Morales-Santana, who had challenged the law.

The arguments made in defense of the law by former President Barack Obama's administration before he left office in January "cannot withstand inspection under a Constitution that requires the government to respect the equal dignity and stature of its male and female citizens", Ginsburg wrote. At the time the statutes were enacted, "two once habitual, but now untenable, assumptions pervaded our nation's citizenship laws and underpinned judicial and administrative rulings: In marriage, husband is dominant, wife subordinate; unwed mother is the natural and sole guardian of a non-marital child". His father failed to meet the law's five-year requirements by 20 days.

A federal appeals court ruled for Morales-Santana, saying that the same rules must apply to both unwed fathers and mothers, and Morales-Santana met the more lenient one-year rule. That this citation appears in an opinion joined by the chief justice shows the Obergefell ruling is gliding into the mainstream of the Court's jurisprudence, unlike other 5-4 rulings which a disgruntled minority prefers to keep at the margins.

In July 2015, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in NY sided with Morales-Santana and struck down the law at issue, saying it applied "impermissible stereotyping" in imposing a tougher burden on fathers.

Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the case, which was argued before his confirmation to the court. And a favorite Ginsburg strategy for eliminating gender-based distinctions in the law was to target laws that - like the one at issue in this case - discriminated against men.

Dominican-born Morales-Santana was admitted to the United States in 1975 as a lawful permanent resident, but he did not bring a claim for derivative citizenship until the United States ordered him deported in 2000.

"We hold that the gender line Congress drew is incompatible with the requirement that the government accord to all persons 'the equal protection of the laws, '" Ginsburg wrote. Instead, the court ruled, the longer residency requirement should apply to everyone, including (going forward) the children of unmarried USA -citizen mothers - at least until Congress can step in and "settle on a uniform prescription that neither favors nor disadvantages any person on the basis of gender".

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