WASHINGTON, June 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Monday, in a rare 4-4 tie, upheld laws that make it harder for an illegitimate child of U.S. father to become a U.S. citizen.
U.S. laws impose a five-year residence requirement, after the age of 14, on U.S. citizen fathers -- but not on U.S. citizen mothers -- before they may transmit citizenship to a child born out of wedlock abroad to a non-citizen.
A tie on the nine-member Supreme Court automatically affirms a lower-court ruling but sets no precedent. In the citizenship case, in which the United States was a party, Justice Elena Kagan did not participate -- having joined the court this term after serving as U.S. solicitor general.
The case involving an illegitimate Mexican son of a U.S. father was decided by a U.S. appeals court panel in California in 2008.
The son, Ruben Flores-Villar, filed suit against the laws under the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment's due process, citing discrimination on the basis of age and gender. The suit attacked sections of the U.S. code that required a five-year residence on the part of U.S. citizen fathers, but not on U.S. mothers, before the transmission of citizenship.
The appeals court said it would follow the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001's Nguyen vs. INS, in which the justices said a section of the relevant law "did not offend the principles of equal protection."
"Assuming, as the [Supreme] Court did in Nguyen, that intermediate scrutiny applies to Flores-Villar's gender-based claim and rational basis review applies to his age-based claim, we conclude that the residence
requirements of [the sections of U.S. code] survive."
The appeals court also cited a 1998 Supreme Court ruling that said the law furthers an important governmental interest in "assuring that a biological parent-child relationship exists." The appeals court said mothers and fathers "are not similarly situated in this respect; the relation is verifiable from the birth itself in the case of the mother, while a father's biological relationship to the child is not so easily established."