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Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958), was a federal court case in the United Statesmarker that was filed in 1955, and finally decided by the Supreme Courtmarker in 1958. The Supreme Court decided, 5-4, that it was unconstitutional for the government to cancel the citizenship of a U.S. citizen as a punishment. The ruling's reference to "evolving standards of decency" is frequently cited precedent in the court's interpretation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment."

Case details

Albert Trop, a native-born U.S. citizen serving as a private in the United States Army, escaped from an Army stockade in Casablanca, Moroccomarker in 1944. The next day, he willingly surrendered to an Army officer and was taken back to the base. For this desertion, Trop was court-martialed and sentenced to three years at hard labor, forfeiture of pay, and a dishonorable discharge.

In 1952, Trop applied for a passport, which was denied because the Nationality Act of 1940 provided that members of the military forces of the United States who deserted would lose their citizenship. (A 1944 amendment modified the Act such that a deserter would lose his citizenship only if on these grounds, he had been dishonorably discharged or dismissed from the military.) Trop went to a federal court to seek a declaratory judgment that he was a citizen; the court sided with the government, as did the Second Circuit.

The Supreme Court noted in its holding, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, that in the previous case Perez v. Brownell, the Court had held that citizenship could be divested in the exercise of the foreign affairs power. However, "denationalization as a punishment is barred by the Eighth Amendment," as this is "the total destruction of the individual's status in organized society".

In the dissent, Justice Felix Frankfurter noted that desertion from the military can be punished by the death penalty, leading him to ask, "Is constitutional dialectic so empty of reason that it can be seriously urged that loss of citizenship is a fate worse than death?"

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