Immigrants are 0.0001% more protected after Maslenjak v. U.S.

Sometimes, a Supreme Court case isn’t really about what the case is about.

By Gavcos (Own work) CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5), via Wikimedia Commons

In Maslenjak, decided on June 22, 2017, the case seems pretty cut and dried. Divna Maslenjak came to the U.S. as a refugee and became a U.S. citizen. She said her family was in danger, especially because her husband had been hiding out and evading service in the Bosnian Serb army. She lied. He actually served as an officer in the Bosnian Serb army. His brigade massacred thousands of civilians. The U.S. government wanted to revoke her citizenship.

This sounds easy, right? But the case isn’t really about what Maslenjak said and did. It’s about the instructions given to the jury at Maslenjak’s trial. The jury was told that if she told a lie in her application, she broke the law and could be stripped of her citizenship — even if her lie had absolutely no effect on the decision to grant her citizenship.

At oral argument, the justices were all over this. They asked, what if she lied about her weight, or her embarrassing childhood nickname, or her tendency to speed while driving? Could any misrepresentation, no matter how insignificant, be used to justify taking away someone’s citizenship? The government’s lawyer said yes.

In today’s decision, the Court unanimously answered no.

The case will go back to the lower courts, where the jury will be instructed properly and the outcome for Maslenjak will undoubtedly be the same. But thousands of other naturalized U.S. citizens can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that their pasts won’t be mined for evidence to deport them.