Very few Americans have heard of Afroyim v. Rusk, a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case on citizenship, but all Americans can perhaps be grateful for it. Most of the Court’s landmark decisions are famous for their tangible effects, like dismantling racial segregation or legalizing abortion rights. Afroyim’s impact can instead be felt by what hasn’t happened: No natural-born Americans have been involuntarily stripped of their citizenship—and the protections it carries—since the ruling.
Naturalized Americans are also generally protected by Afroyim, with one notable exception: if they lied or misled a consular officer during the process to obtain their citizenship. That gap was the subject of contentious questioning by the justices recently in a case that could grant the Trump administration broad powers to strip naturalized Americans of their cherished status.
The case itself, Maslenjak v. United States, began under the Obama administration. Diana Maslenjak was born in a part of Yugoslavia that became part of Bosnia. Yugoslavia was a multiethnic society for most of the 20th century until its collapse in the 1990s ushered in a bloody decade of sectarian strife. Maslenjak and her children sought and received refugee status in the United States. During her interviews with a U.S. consular official in 1998, Maslenjak said she feared persecution as an ethnic Serb in Muslim-majority Bosnia. That led the U.S. government to grant her and her family’s request in 1999.