06.29.10 - A team of Northeastern University School of Law faculty and students, led by Associate Dean Martha Davis, who also serves as a faculty director of the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy, has filed an amicus brief in an equal protection case before the United States Supreme Court. The case is a challenge to sex-based citizenship laws. The Northeastern amicus brief puts the issue in a comparative/international context, citing decisions of supreme courts in Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy, Botswana and others that have struck down sex-based provisions. The brief argues that international law is unequivocal in requiring that equality principles be upheld in the citizenship context.

The petitioner, Ruben Flores-Villar, challenges the treatment of a foreign-born, out-of-wedlock child of a citizen father under US citizenship law. The Supreme Court will decide if mothers and fathers may be treated differently in determining whether their children may claim US citizenship. Flores-Villar, who was born in Tijuana, Mexico, but was raised by his father and grandmother, both American citizens, in San Diego. His mother was Mexican, and his parents were not married. Flores-Villar tried to avoid deportation by claiming US citizenship. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, rejected that claim under a law that spelled out different requirements for mothers and fathers whose children were born abroad and out of wedlock to a partner who was not an American citizen.

The case raises the more general question of when, if ever, sex-based classifications are a defensible component of the nation's laws. The amicus brief argues that the United States should follow well-established international human rights law and reject this clear example of inequality.

"Our biggest challenges in preparing the brief were tracking down the international case law, locating reliable translations and understanding the varying structures of foreign judicial systems, all under a strict filing deadline," said Amanda Hainsworth '12, one of the students on the amicus team. "These hurdles were particularly evident when dealing with case law from countries like Italy, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Nepal and Bangladesh."