United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644 (1929)

Because the privilege of American citizenship is so highly regarded, the United States government has established certain requirements individuals must meet before becoming a naturalized citizen. In U.S. v. Schwimmer, Schwimmer (a female Hungarian academic) wished to gain citizenship but refused to consent to part of the required oath of allegiance because she was a pacifist. The oath required a declaration that she would take up arms in defense of the country when required by law. The district court denied Schwimmer’s application for citizenship, and the Court of Appeals reversed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether Schwimmer’s application was improperly denied.

The Court ruled (eight to one) that Schwimmer’s application was properly denied, relying on the government’s interest in being able to compel military service of its citizens if necessary. Furthermore, the Court ruled that Schwimmer’s pacifism could hinder her ability to promote nationalism, which would hurt the nation’s safety and interests. Two years later, in United States v. Macintosh, 283 U.S. 605 (1931), the Court reaffirmed Schwimmer by denying a citizenship application because the individual would fight only in a morally justified war. In 1946, however, Schwimmer and Macintosh were overturned by Girouard v. United States, 328 U.S. 61 (1946), where the Court finally determined that individuals whose religious faiths prevented them from complying with the entire oath of allegiance could still attain citizenship. The Court relied on America’s tradition of religious tolerance, noting that fighting is just one of many ways individuals can support their country during war.

LEE R. REMINGTON

References and Further Reading

  • Brownstone, David, and Irene M. Franck. Facts about Immigration. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 2005.
  • NISBCO: National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors at http://www.nisbco.org.
  • Reardon, Nora H. ‘‘Derivative Citizenship of the United States—the Law, Procedure, and Practice in Its Determination, and in the Issuance of Documentary Evidence of Such Status.’’ (Lecture, INS Course of Study for Members of the Service). Jan. 7, 1943.
  • Tribe, Laurence H. American Constitutional Law. 3rd ed. New York: West Publishing Company, 1999.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Girouard v. United States, 328 U.S. 61 (1946)
  • United States v. Macintosh, 283 U.S. 605 (1931)
  • United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644 (1929)

See also Citizenship

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