Second Circuit court ordered parties to re-brief key legal issues, citing Collins’s recently published article, before ruling that a federal citizenship statute is unconstitutional.
Professor Kristin Collins’s 2014 Yale Law Journal article, “Illegitimate Borders: Jus Sanguinis Citizenship and the Legal Construction of Family, Race, and Nation,” was cited multiple times by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in its July 8 opinion in Morales-Santana v. Lynch.
At issue in the case was the constitutionality of a statute governing whether the foreign-born child of a US parent is a citizen. If the parents are not married, and only the father is a US citizen, the statute imposes numerous restrictions on citizenship transmission that do not apply when only the mother is a US citizen.
The petitioner, Luis Morales-Santana, was required by statute to prove that his US-citizen father had resided in the United States for ten years prior to his birth, at least five of which had to occur following his father’s fourteenth birthday. His father was just 20 days shy of satisfying that residency requirement. Had Morales-Santana’s mother been a US citizen, she would have only needed to reside in the United States for a year at any point prior to his birth. The court ruled in favor of Morales-Santana, finding that the statute violates the Constitution’s guaranty of gender equality.
In briefs submitted in Morales-Santana, the government argued that Congress distinguished between fathers’ and mothers’ ability to transmit citizenship—and treated mothers and their children more favorably—out of concern that the nonmarital, foreign-born children of American mothers were at a special risk of being born stateless. The government contended that this concern justified the gender-based distinction drawn in the citizenship law, though such distinctions are rarely permissible.
Collins, who reconstructed the origins of the derivative citizenship laws through extensive archival research, found virtually no concern about statelessness in the relevant documents. Instead, after tracing the origins of the differential treatment of US-citizen mothers and fathers and their nonmarital children to the early twentieth century, she found that the distinction drawn by the statute reflected then-prevalent “understandings of fathers’ and mothers’ respective parental roles.” In the fall of 2014, soon after Collins’s article was published, the Second Circuit ordered the parties to re-brief the core constitutional issue, citing the article, and ultimately concluded that the statue violated constitutional gender-equality principles.
In addition to drawing on Collins’s article in its final opinion, the court also cited a 2010 amicus brief Collins submitted in Flores-Villar v. United States, a Supreme Court case that involved the same issue. That case resulted in a split 4–4 decision, with Justice Elena Kagan recused. The government has not yet indicated whether it will appeal the Second Circuit’s ruling in Morales-Santana.
Collins is a noted scholar of citizenship law, family law, and legal history, whose work has appeared in the Yale Law Journal, Duke Law Journal, Vanderbilt Law Review, and Law and History Review, among other publications. In the fall of 2012, she held a National Endowment for the Humanities Long-Term Fellowship at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where her research focused on the role of family law in the administration and development of American citizenship and immigration law.