Miller v. Albright, 523 U.S. 420; 118 S. Ct. 1428; 140 L. Ed. 2d 475 (1998)

Facts—Lorelyn Miller was born to a Filipino-national mother in 1970, filed an application for U.S. citizenship in 1991, and was rejected. The next year a

U.S. citizen named Charlie Miller who had served in the U.S. Armed Forces in the Philippines entered a “voluntary paternity agreement” specifying his paternity. The daughter’s reapplication was still denied on the basis that it failed to meet statutory criteria. Both father and daughter then filed suit against the secretary of state in a U.S. District Court in Texas, but the Court rejected the father’s standing, and the daughter’s case was moved to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It decided that federal courts had no power to grant citizenship. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia accepted the daughter’s right to sue but upheld the differential requirements for children of citizen fathers and mothers on the basis that they fostered ties between such children and the United States.

Question—Do congressional rules distinguishing between the ways that illegitimate children of a U.S. citizen mother and a U.S. citizen father become citizens violate the Fifth Amendment? (Note, the Fifth Amendment, rather than the Fourteenth, is at issue here because the case involves the national government.)


ReasonsJ. Stevens (6–3. Denied relief to Miller; severely fractured on other parts of the decision). Under provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, an individual can become a citizen through birth or naturalization. Congress has distinguished between “citizen fathers and citizen mothers of children born out of wedlock.” Whereas those born abroad of citizen mothers need only show that such mothers resided continuously in the United States for a year or more, those claiming to be born of citizen fathers must show a blood relationship “by clear and convincing evidence,” must show that the father was a U.S. citizen at the time of the person’s birth; must show that the father provided financial support to the age of eighteen and, before the child reaches eighteen, must legitimize the child, acknowledging paternity “in writing under oath” or establishing such paternity “by adjudication of a competent court.” Stevens agreed that Lorelyn Miller has standing in this case since the decision affects her claims of citizenship. He rejected the idea that the differential standards for men rested on simple stereotypes—“There is no doubt that ensuring reliable proof of a biological relationship between the potential citizen and its citizen parent is an important governmental objective.” Mothers and fathers are “differentially situated”—“The blood relationship to the birth mother is immediately obvious and is typically established by hospital records and birth certificates; the relationship to the unmarried father may often be undisclosed and unrecorded in any contemporary public record.” Congress has compensated by allowing fathers to establish their paternity over an eighteen-year period. The congressional law also serves “the interest in encouraging the development of a healthy relationship between the citizen parent and the child while the child is a minor; and the related interest in fostering ties between the foreign-born child and the United States.” This is not a case of stereotyping but a product of genuine biological differences.

J. O’Connor’s concurring opinion expressed the view that the rules against third-party suits did not give the daughter the right to bring a case on behalf of her father’s claim. As to her own claim, it triggered only minimal “rational basis” scrutiny, which the government met.

J. Scalia’s concurrence accepted the daughter’s right to sue but argued that only Congress, not the courts, could confer citizenship.

J. Ginsburg’s and J. Breyer’s dissents accepted the daughter’s standing and argued that the law did rest on stereotypes and that such stereotypes were subject to higher judicial scrutiny that they failed to pass.

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