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decided: May 16, 1910.



Author: Day

[ 217 U.S. Page 515]

 MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the court.

The petitioner, Gustav Holmgren, was convicted and sentenced in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of California of the crime of false swearing in naturalization proceedings, in violation of § 5395 of the

[ 217 U.S. Page 516]

     Revised Statutes of the United States. The judgment was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 156 Fed. Rep. 439. The conviction was upon the third count of the indictment, which charged that in a naturalization proceeding, upon the application of one Frank Werta for admission to citizenship in the United States, pending September 21, 1903, in the Superior Court of the city and county of San Francisco, California, a court of record of the State of California, with common law jurisdiction, a seal, and a clerk, the petitioner swore falsely in making the material statement, under oath, that he, the said Gustav Holmgren, had been acquainted with the said Frank Werta in the United States during the five years immediately preceding the application for naturalization, whereas in truth and in fact, as he then well knew, the said Werta had not resided continuously in the United States for a period of five years, and the said Holmgren had not known the said Werta for more than four years prior to said application.

The principal question in the case is whether, under § 5395, United States Revised Statutes, a conviction can be had in a Federal court for a false oath in naturalization proceedings had in a state court.

Preliminarily to a consideration of the proper construction of this section we may notice the contention of the petitioner that there is no constitutional power in Congress to confer jurisdiction upon the courts of a State in naturalization proceedings, involving admission to citizenship in the United States.

Article I, § 8, clause 4, of the Constitution of the United States vests in Congress the power to establish an uniform rule of naturalization. Acting under this constitutional authority from the earliest history of the Government, Congress has passed acts regulating the naturalization of aliens, admitting them to citizenship in the United States, and has authorized such proceedings in the state, as well as Federal, courts. The validity of such proceedings by virtue of the power conferred

[ 217 U.S. Page 517]

     by acts of Congress has been recognized from an early day. Compbell v. Gordon, 6 Cranch, 176, 182; Stark v. Chesapeake Ins. Co., 7 Cranch, 420. The naturalization acts of the United States from the first one in 1790 have conferred authority upon state courts to admit aliens to citizenship. Van Dyne on Naturalization, p. 11, and the following.

It is undoubtedly true that the right to create courts for the States does not exist in Congress.The Constitution provides (Art. III, § 1) that the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. But it does not follow that Congress may not constitutionally authorize the magistrates or courts of a State to enforce a statute providing for a uniform system of naturalization, and defining certain proceedings which, when complied with, shall make the applicant a citizen of the United States. This Congress had undertaken to do in making provision for the naturalization of aliens to become citizens of the United States in a certain class of state courts -- those of record having common law jurisdiction, a clerk and a seal. Rev. Stat. U.S., § 2165 (since superseded by the act of June 29, 1906, c. 3592, 34 Stat. 596).

The question is not here presented whether the States can be required to enforce such naturalization laws against their consent, for it appears that the constitution of the State of California, in § 5, article 6, and the statutes in § 76 of the Code of Civil Procedure of that State, grant to the courts the power of naturalization and the right to issue papers therefor. Unless prohibited by state legislation, state courts and magistrates may exercise the powers conferred by Congress under such laws. Stephens, Petitioner, 4 Gray, 559. The indictment charges that Werta made application as an alien to be admitted to citizenship in the United States; the proceeding was had and false oath charged was taken under authority of the statutes of the United States. The present proceeding was to prosecute the petitioner for alleged false swearing under

[ 217 U.S. Page 518]

     an oath administered under authority of a law of the United States. Where such is the case we think the Congress of the United States may constitutionally provide for the punishment of such offenses, whether the oath is taken before a Federal court or officer, or before a state court or officer acting ...

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