Wall Street Journal
By Jess Bravin
June 12, 2017
WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court Monday struck down an immigration law that treated unmarried mothers better than unmarried fathers, ruling that “stunningly anachronistic” stereotypes about the sexes couldn’t justify a preference for women over men.
“The gender line Congress drew is incompatible with the requirement that the government accord to all persons ‘the equal protection of the laws,’” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court.
At issue is how long an unmarried American citizen has to have been present in the U.S. to confer citizenship on a child born overseas when the other parent is an alien. Currently, the period is a year for an unmarried American mother but five years for an unmarried American father.
Passed in 1940, the law treated men and women differently based on “the long-held view that unwed fathers care little about, indeed are strangers to, their children,” Justice Ginsburg wrote, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “Lump characterization of that kind, however, no longer passes equal protection inspection.”.
Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, agreed with the result but declined to join the majority’s constitutional analysis, saying it was unnecessary to decide the case.
The ruling provided cold comfort, however, to Luis Ramon Morales-Santana, born in the Dominican Republic in 1962 to a Dominican mother and American father just 20 days short of the paternal residency requirement, which at the time was 10 years.
Mr. Morales-Santana had sought to be treated the same as if his mother had been the U.S. citizen, and a federal appeals court in New York agreed he should be.
The Supreme Court said, however, that in these circumstances it lacked the power to expand an exception to the general immigration law, and could eliminate the discriminatory practice only by ending the advantage afforded to women.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court held that the provisions of the [Immigration and Nationality Act] used to deny Mr. Morales-Santana U.S. citizenship unconstitutionally discriminate on the basis of gender,” said Stephen Broome, a Los Angeles attorney who argued the case. “We are examining our options with respect to Mr. Morales-Santana, who in our view, should benefit from the court’s insistence that ‘the government must ensure that the laws in question are administered in a manner free from gender-based discrimination.’”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
For Justice Ginsburg, Monday’s opinion marked another feminist milestone, one she placed in the context of women’s rights cases she argued as an attorney in the 1970s and constitutional decisions she later wrote as a justice.
The provisions struck down “date from an era when the lawbooks of our nation were rife with overbroad generalizations about the way men and women are,” she wrote.
When the unwed-mother provision was enacted, “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 nonmarital child,” she wrote.
The newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, was seated after the case was heard and didn’t participate. He did, however, deliver his first opinion Monday, a unanimous decision exempting companies that purchase debts to pursue for themselves from a federal consumer-protection law.
“Disruptive dinnertime calls, downright deceit, and more besides drew Congress’s eye to the debt collection industry,” prompting passage of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Justice Gorsuch began, showing the flair that attracted attention when he was on a federal appeals court.
“Everyone agrees that the term embraces the repo man—someone hired by a creditor to collect an outstanding debt,” he continued. In recent years, however, companies have begun purchasing consumer debt for themselves and then pursuing past-due customers without a middleman, prompting disputes over whether they were “more like the repo man or the loan originator.”
The opinion, in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc., focused on construction of the word “owed” and concluded that the statute covered only businesses that pursue debts incurred by a third party.
In keeping with a theme he sounded at his confirmation hearing in April, Justice Gorsuch stressed that the court’s role was “to apply, not amend the work of the people’s representatives,” even in a case like this, where it may be difficult to discern a good reason to treat these types of collectors differently.
Write to Jess Bravin at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com