Why Does “Legitimacy” Matter in U.S. Nationality Law?

Photo Credit: Maryland GovPics 

By: Betsy L. Fisher


Update: Just after publication, the Supreme Court ruled in Sessions v. Morales-Santana that gender-based distinctions in U.S. nationality law violate the Fifth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.


Bad law makes bad cases. The recent case of Miranda v. Sessions, clearly demonstrates this principle. In Miranda v. Sessions, an individual with close ties to the United States, whose mother naturalized while he was still a minor, was denied U.S. citizenship because of reliance on antiquated notions of parental responsibility and gender roles. Although U.S. case law largely prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender stereotypes, and the international community is working to eliminate gender discrimination in nationality law, Miranda illustrates a lingering form of discrimination in U.S. nationality law.

Despite the court’s attention to issues of res judicata, the broader question raised by the case is: what role do findings of “legitimacy” have in nationality law? “Legitimacy” is a legal concept defining the legal rights and obligations of children to fathers; traditionally, a child of unmarried parents did not have a legal relationship with the child’s biological father. But in the day of DNA testing, why do such distinctions still matter? Continue reading Why Does “Legitimacy” Matter in U.S. Nationality Law?