Trop v. Dulles

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Trop v. Dulles
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Argued May 2, 1957
Reargued October 28–29, 1957
Decided March 31, 1958
Full case nameAlbert L. Trop v. John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, et al.
Citations 356 U.S. 86 ( more )
78 S. Ct. 590; 2 L. Ed. 2d 630; 1958 U.S. LEXIS 1284
Prior history Both District and Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Trop's claim
At least as applied in this case to a native-born citizen of the United States who did not voluntarily relinquish or abandon his citizenship or become involved in any way with a foreign nation, § 401(g) of the Nationality Act of 1940, as amended, which provides that a citizen "shall lose his nationality" by deserting the military or naval forces of the United States in time of war, provided he is convicted thereof by court martial and as a result of such conviction is dismissed or dishonorably discharged from the service, is unconstitutional.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black  · Felix Frankfurter
William O. Douglas  · Harold H. Burton
Tom C. Clark  · John M. Harlan II
William J. Brennan Jr.  · Charles E. Whittaker
Case opinions
Plurality Warren, joined by Black, Douglas, Whittaker
Concurrence Black, joined by Douglas
Concurrence Brennan
Dissent Frankfurter, joined by Burton, Clark, Harlan
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. VIII

Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to revoke citizenship as a punishment for a crime. The ruling's reference to "evolving standards of decency" is frequently cited in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. Established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, it has original jurisdiction over a small range of cases, such as suits between two or more states, and those involving ambassadors. It also has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal court and state court cases that involve a point of federal constitutional or statutory law. The Court has the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution or an executive act for being unlawful. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions. Each year it agrees to hear about 100–150 of the more than 7,000 cases that it is asked to review.

Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with an applicable constitution; the status of a law, a procedure, or an act's accordance with the laws or guidelines set forth in the applicable constitution. When one of these directly violates the constitution, it is unconstitutional. All the rest are considered constitutional until challenged and declared otherwise, typically by courts through judicial review.

Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting unreasonable bail and cruel and unusual punishment

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the federal, state, and local governments of the United States, or any other government, or any corporation, private enterprise, group, or individual, from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments, in any part of the US, on US property, or against any US citizen, or any resident of the US. This amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of the United States Bill of Rights. The phrases in this amendment originated in the English Bill of Rights of 1689.



Albert Trop was a natural born citizen of the United States who, while serving as a private in the United States Army in 1944, deserted from an Army stockade in Casablanca, Morocco. The next day, he willingly surrendered to an army officer and was taken back to the base, where he was subsequently court-martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to three years at hard labor, forfeiture of pay, and a dishonorable discharge.

A private is a soldier of the lowest military rank.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

Desertion crime

In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a duty or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning. In contrast, unauthorized absence (UA) or absence without leave refers to a temporary absence.

In 1952, Trop applied for a passport, which was denied because the Nationality Act of 1940 provided that members of the armed forces of the United States who deserted would lose their citizenship. (A 1944 amendment modified the Act such that a deserter would lose his citizenship only if, on these grounds, he had been dishonorably discharged or dismissed from the military.)

United States passport passport

United States passports are passports issued to citizens and nationals of the United States of America. They are issued exclusively by the U.S. Department of State. Besides passports, limited use passport cards are issued by the same government agency subject to the same requirements. It is unlawful for U.S. citizens and nationals to enter or exit the United States without a valid U.S. passport or Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative-compliant passport-replacement document, though there are many exceptions, waivers are generally granted for U.S. citizens returning without a passport, and the exit requirement is not enforced.

The Nationality Act of 1940 revised numerous provisions of law relating to American citizenship and naturalization. It was enacted by the 76th Congress of the United States and signed into law on October 14, 1940, a year after World War II had begun in Europe, but before the U.S. entered the war.

Trop filed suit in US federal courts seeking declaratory judgment that he was a US citizen.

A lawsuit is a proceeding by a party or parties against another in the civil court of law. The archaic term "suit in law" is found in only a small number of laws still in effect today. The term "lawsuit" is used in reference to a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint. If the plaintiff is successful, judgment is in the plaintiff's favor, and a variety of court orders may be issued to enforce a right, award damages, or impose a temporary or permanent injunction to prevent an act or compel an act. A declaratory judgment may be issued to prevent future legal disputes.

A declaratory judgment, also called a declaration, is the legal determination of a court that resolves legal uncertainty for the litigants. It is a form of legally binding preventive adjudication by which a party involved in an actual or possible legal matter can ask a court to conclusively rule on and affirm the rights, duties, or obligations of one or more parties in a civil dispute. The declaratory judgment is generally considered a statutory remedy and not an equitable remedy in the United States, and is thus not subject to equitable requirements, though there are analogies that can be found in the remedies granted by courts of equity. A declaratory judgment does not by itself order any action by a party, or imply damages or an injunction, although it may be accompanied by one or more other remedies.

The US district court ruled in favor of the government, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the decision of the district court.

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is one of the thirteen United States Courts of Appeals. Its territory comprises the states of Connecticut, New York, and Vermont, and the court has appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:


The Supreme Court reversed. In the decision, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court cited Perez v. Brownell , the Court had held that citizenship could be divested in the exercise of the foreign affairs power. However, "denationalization as a punishment is barred by the Eighth Amendment," describing it as "a form of punishment more primitive than torture" as it inflicts the "total destruction of the individual's status in organized society."

Chief Justice of the United States senior justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

The Chief Justice of the United States is the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, and as such the highest-ranking judge of the federal judiciary. Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution grants plenary power to the President of the United States to nominate, and with the advice and consent of the United States Senate, appoint a chief justice, who serves until they resign, are impeached and convicted, retire, or die.

Earl Warren United States federal judge

Earl Warren was an American jurist and politician who served as the 14th Chief Justice of the United States (1953–1969) and earlier as the 30th Governor of California (1943–1953). The Warren Court presided over a major shift in constitutional jurisprudence, with Warren writing the majority opinions in landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, Reynolds v. Sims, and Miranda v. Arizona. Warren also led the Warren Commission, a presidential commission that investigated the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Perez v. Brownell, 356 U.S. 44 (1958), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court affirmed Congress's right to revoke United States citizenship as a result of a citizen's voluntary performance of specified actions, even in the absence of any intent or desire on the person's part to lose citizenship. Specifically, the Supreme Court upheld an act of Congress which provided for revocation of citizenship as a consequence of voting in a foreign election.

Dissenting, Justice Felix Frankfurter noted that desertion from the military can be punished by the death penalty, leading him to ask, "Is constitutional dialectic so empty of reason that it can be seriously urged that loss of citizenship is a fate worse than death?"

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