On this dayDec 06, 1915

Supreme Court Rules American Women With Foreign Husbands Lose Citizenship

Library of Congress

On December 6, 1915, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision upholding the Expatriation Act of 1907, which stripped American women of their citizenship when they married a non-citizen. Under that act, women who lost their U.S. citizenship could apply to be naturalized if their husbands later became American citizens—but since virtually all Asian immigrants were legally barred from becoming U.S. citizens at the time, an American woman who married an Asian man would lose her citizenship permanently. Similarly, women of Asian descent who were American citizens by birth had no means of regaining their U.S. citizenship if they lost it through marriage to a foreigner—even if the foreigner was white—because Asian men and women were ineligible for naturalization in all circumstances.

Meanwhile, American men who married foreign women were permitted to keep their citizenship.

Mackenzie v. Hare was an attempt to challenge the Expatriation Act and reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court upheld the law, ruling that an involuntary revocation of citizenship would be unconstitutional, but stripping a woman of citizenship upon marriage to a foreign husband was permissible because such women voluntarily enter into such marriages, “with knowledge of the consequences.”

The Expatriation Act remained in full effect until 1922, when Congress amended the law to permit most women to retain their American citizenship after marriage to a non-U.S. citizen—but still stripped citizenship from American women married to Asian immigrants ineligible for citizenship until discriminatory immigration laws were reformed in the 1960s. In 2014, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution expressing regret for the past revocation of American women's citizenship under this law.

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