The 14th Amendment's first sentence reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

It is accepted that citizens of the United States (including native-born citizens, and persons that hold only U.S. citizenship) are allowed to renounce their citizenship. For example, Facebook executive Eduardo Saverin recently renounced his U.S. citizenship (leaving him with only Brazilian citizenship).

The Expatriation Act of 1868 (enacted less than a month after the 14th amendment was promulgated), said in part:

Be it enacted[...], That any declaration, instruction, opinion, order, or decision of any officers of this government which restricts, impairs, or questions the right of expatriation, is hereby declared inconsistent with the fundamental principles of this government.

But this seems to contradict the plain reading of the Citizenship Clause, which appears to state that citizens are citizens regardless of whether they purport to have renounced their citizenship. So what is the Constitutional basis for allowing natural-born U.S. citizens to renounce their citizenship?

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    I think it might be the bit of the constitution that says "we are not a totalitarian state". Or maybe its the bit that assumes anything not specifically prohibited by the constitution is permitted. Dec 23, 2012 at 0:14

1 Answer 1


The 14th Amendment does not account for the possibility of ending one's citizenship, rather it only makes reference to the start of one's citizenship. In the United States, it is not correct to say that because the Constitution does not speak to a particular topic it is disallowed for private civilians. In fact, the United States Constitution is one of enumerated powers and listed only those rights given by the people (and states) to the federal government. The limitations are on the federal government not on the people and this is explicitly stated in the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Furthermore, you seem to be skipping the portion of the Citizenship Clause that says and subject to the jurisdiction thereof. This implies that people, even those born or naturalized within the United States, could enter a state of no longer being subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. All Congress did with The Expatriation Act of 1868 is codify the specific rules associated with removing oneself from the jurisdiction of the United States. As such, it is consistent with the 14th Amendment and its Citizenship Clause.

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    "rather it only makes reference to the start of one's citizenship. In the United States" The 14th amendment guarantees more than the start of one's citizenship. It also guarantees the citizenship gotten through the Citizenship Clause (people born or naturalized in the U.S., and subject to the jurisdiction thereof) cannot be involuntarily taken away by law or the government under any circumstances unless the person intended to relinquish it.
    – user102008
    Nov 24, 2014 at 23:08
  • @user102008 Technically it is true that the government cannot involuntarily revoke your citizenship. However, by engaging in actions that a court deems you could not take without implicitly intending to give up your citizenship, the government can have your citizenship revoked. The most obvious example is joining a military force engaged in hostilities with the US or being convicted of treason. This became an issue recently when the US was targeting US citizens in Yemen with a drone campaign. Not a citizen, no due process concerns in a theater of war. Nov 25, 2014 at 14:51
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    The standard of evidence for intending to give up your citizenship is preponderance of evidence. No action can automatically "imply" you intended to give up your citizenship; the intention must be proved by itself with preponderance of evidence, and the burden of proof is upon the government. After Afroyim v. Rusk, Congress for a time tried to circumvent it by saying that certain actions, like naturalization in a foreign country, or swearing an oath to another country, created a presumption you intended to relinquish citizenship; but this was overruled in Vance v. Terrazas.
    – user102008
    Nov 25, 2014 at 19:57

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