In Afroyim v. Rusk the Supreme Court ruled that US citizens may not be deprived of their citizenship voluntarily. A previous precedent (Perez v. Brownell) had made the possibility of possessing dual nationality very limited, and created a number of ways in which someone could be automatically and de-facto involuntarily expatriated.

What caused the Supreme Court's total change of heart? What was going on historically that influenced the court to change their mind? Perhaps some kind of theme in allowing multiple allegiances historically, etc due to international developments?

  • The Supreme court is essentially immune to political pressure. I've provided a link to the wikipedia page which largely answers your question; I'd recommend that you consult the opinion of the court if you want more details.
    – MCW
    Feb 29, 2016 at 22:53
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    @MarkC.Wallace - That's the idea anyway. In practice, looking at party politics can help explain some confusing decisions. For example, is it sheer coincidence that the Supreme Court never struck down a single law of Congress until the party that nominated most of its members lost power in Congress?
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 29, 2016 at 23:35
  • Interesting point, but I can postulate several different explanations (e.g. desire to avoid a court-congress battle that would be of benefit to noone), and I can see no mechanism by which the Court can be influenced in the type of case mentioned by OP. What does the party have to do with the court?
    – MCW
    Mar 1, 2016 at 12:55
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    @MarkC.Wallace - There's more to "influence" than brute coercion. Court members are human beings with their own political opinions and party preferences. Those don't magically go away just because nobody can fire them anymore.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 1, 2016 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


In general, the longstanding legal precedent in the USA is that you cannot have your citizenship involuntarily revoked, and Afroyim is really a re-establishment of that precedent, not a deviation from it.

The "precedent" you are probably referring to is most likely Perez v. Brownell. It was at the time (to my knowledge) the only Supreme Court ruling ever explicitly upholding the right of the State to involuntarily remove someone's US Citizenship*. Acting against that case were:

  • That was a ruling from only 9 years prior, so it wasn't a long-standing precedent.
  • It practically reversed some previous decisions.
  • It was a 5-4 decision. 5-4's don't make very strong precedent, because a single court change could reverse the decision.

What happened in the meantime is what always happens with unusual 5-4 decisions: As soon as the membership in the court changes, lawyers start to test the decision by bringing up cases against it. By 1967 by my count the court had 3 personnel changes since that decision. By the time Perez' final test came with Afroyim, it was found wanting.

* - This point's arguable, indeed that's why we still need courts. :-)

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