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Petitioner, an alien, agreed to give up his right to become an American citizen in exchange for exemption from military service, pursuant to 4 (a) of the Selective Service Act of 1948. After that section was repealed, petitioner was subjected to the draft, but was found to be physically unfit. His subsequent petition for naturalization was denied on the ground that he was debarred from citizenship. Section 315 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 provides that any alien who has applied for exemption from military service on the ground of alienage "and is or was relieved . . . from such training or service on such ground, shall be permanently ineligible to become a citizen of the United States." Held: Under 315 an alien who requests exemption from military service is to be held to his agreement to relinquish all claims to naturalization only when the Government completely and permanently exempts him from service in the armed forces. Pp. 511-514.
432 F.2d 438, reversed and remanded.
BLACK, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Paul N. Halvonik argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief was Marshall W. Krause.
Richard B. Stone argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Griswold, Assistant Attorney General Wilson, and Charles Gordon.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issue in this case is exceedingly simple. By signing SSS Form 130 - Application by Alien for Relief from Training and Service in the Armed Forces - the petitioner, [402 U.S. 509, 510] Ib Otto Astrup, a native of Denmark, agreed to give up his right to become an American citizen, and in exchange, the United States, pursuant to 4 (a) of the Selective Service Act of 1948, 62 Stat. 605, 50 U.S.C. App. 454 (a) (1946 ed., Supp. III), agreed to give up the right to induct Astrup into the United States armed forces. Congress later repealed the law under which Astrup was exempted from military service, reneging on its part of the bargain with him. 1 Universal Military Training and Service Act 4 (a), 65 Stat. 76, 50 U.S.C. App. 454 (a) (1952 ed.). Thereafter the Selective Service System attempted to draft Astrup and would have succeeded in putting him into uniform but for the fact that he was found to be physically unfit for the draft. Later, when Astrup decided that he would like to become an American citizen, the Government attempted to enforce Astrup's promise even though it was unwilling to keep its own promise. When Astrup petitioned for naturalization, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied his petition on the ground that he was debarred from citizenship. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 432 F.2d 438 (1970). We granted Astrup's petition for certiorari, 400 U.S. 1008 (1971), and now reverse. [402 U.S. 509, 511]
In support of the decision below the United States emphasizes the fact that Astrup admitted having read a notice proclaiming that:
Astrup, unlike Ceballos, is not involved in a deportation proceeding under the Immigration Act of 1917 and consequently the saving clause of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 405, 66 Stat. 280, is inapplicable. 2 [402 U.S. 509, 512] See note following 8 U.S.C. 1101. Moreover, Astrup petitioned for naturalization under 316 of the 1952 Act. Therefore, 315 of the 1952 Act, not 4 (a) of the Selective Service Act of 1948, determines the effect to be given to Astrup's 1950 application for exemption from military service. Section 315 provides:
Other courts have distinguished the Hoellger holding from the situation where an alien is once relieved from military service but later reclassified for service which he never performs because of intervening circumstances such as physical unfitness. See Lapenieks v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 389 F.2d 343 (1968); United States v. Hoellger, supra, at 762 n. 2. However, there is nothing in the language of 315 which leads us to believe that Congress intended such harsh and bizarre consequences to flow from an individual's failure to pass a physical examination. 3 We think that Congress used the words "is or was relieved" to provide that an alien who requests exemption from the military service be [402 U.S. 509, 514] held to his agreement to relinquish all claims to naturalized citizenship only when the Government abides by its part of the agreement and completely exempts him from service in our armed forces. 4
Consequently, the United States District Court erred in denying Astrup's petition for naturalization on the ground that he was barred from citizenship because he had once claimed an exemption from military service as an alien. The decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirming the District Court is reversed and the case is remanded to the District Court for further proceedings on Astrup's petition for naturalization.
[ Footnote 2 ] The United States argues that the saving clause of the 1952 Act is applicable, citing United States v. Menasche, 348 U.S. 528 (1955), and Shomberg v. United States, 348 U.S. 540 (1955). In Menasche the Court held that an alien who had filed a declaration of intention to become an American citizen had a "right in the process of acquisition" preserved by the saving clause which provided: "Nothing contained in [the 1952] Act, unless otherwise specifically provided therein, shall be construed to affect the validity of any declaration of intention . . . ." The Court there found nothing in the 1952 Act that specifically nullified Menasche's declaration. In Shomberg, on the other hand, the Court found in 318 of the 1952 Act, 66 Stat. 244, 8 U.S.C. 1429, a specific bar to final determination of a naturalization petition by an alien against whom there was an outstanding deportation proceeding. This case is more like Shomberg than Menasche in that 315 is addressed to events which may have occurred before the effective date of the 1952 Act and refers specifically to the saving clause as, at least partially, inapplicable.
[ Footnote 3 ] We find no merit in the Government's contention that Astrup was effectively relieved from military service on account of alienage merely because he was found to be medically qualified for the draft on October 11, 1950, before he claimed an exemption and was later found to be medically unfit for the draft, after the Government repudiated its part of the bargain. The quality of pre-induction physical examinations varies widely and the standards of medical fitness are frequently revised. In any event, the examination is primarily for the benefit of the United States, insuring that those inducted are physically capable of performing adequately and that the United States does not become legally obligated to provide medical treatment for conditions not caused by military service.
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