Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Favoring Unwed Mothers Over Unwed Fathers

Immigrants pose with U.S citizenship certificates in front of a large U.S. flag after a naturalization ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center in February. A Supreme Court decision Monday will put the foreign-born children of unmarried American fathers on equal footing with those of unwed American mothers. That may mean longer waits for the latter, at least in the short term.
Jae C. Hong/AP

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a federal law based on what the justices called “stunning stereotypes” — among them that most men care little about their children born out of wedlock.

Under the law, a child born abroad to an unwed American mother automatically becomes a U.S. citizen if the mother previously lived in the U.S. for a period of at least one year.

In contrast, the child of an unwed father can’t become a U.S. citizen unless the father has lived in the U.S. for a continuous period of five years, two of them when he was over the age of 14.

Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that the different gender lines drawn by Congress violate the Constitution’s guarantee to equal protection of the law.

An immigrant seeking citizenship
The case was brought by Luis Ramón Morales-Santana, born in the Dominican Republic to unwed parents — a mother from the D.R. and a U.S.-citizen father who had been working on a construction project there.

Morales-Santana’s father fell 20 days short of the U.S. residency required to qualify his son for automatic citizenship at birth, but the father took responsibility for the son; the parents eventually married and put the father’s name on the birth certificate.

Morales-Santana came to the U.S. with his parents as a permanent resident. But in 2000, after he was convicted of several felonies, the government sought to deport him.

Morales-Santana then challenged the citizenship law as unconstitutional sex discrimination, and on Monday the Supreme Court agreed: the child of an unwed American mother cannot be granted automatic citizenship more quickly than the child of an unwed American father.

Justice Ginsburg center stage
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority — and in many ways for her the opinion was a trip down memory lane.

Ginsburg cited decisions she briefed and argued as an attorney nearly 50 years ago — decisions that transformed the law and put gender discrimination nearly on a par with unconstitutional race discrimination.

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SOURCE: NPR, Nina Totenberg