High Court Weighs Case of Bias against Dads Justices Hear Dispute Today between Foreign-Born Daughter of an American Serviceman and US Rules on Citizenship

Article excerpt

It's an old story with a new twist: When American serviceman Charlie Miller was stationed in Angeles City in the Philippines in the 1970s, he met a local girl. He fathered a daughter. He never married the mother.

Now the daughter, Lorelyn Penero Miller, wants United States citizenship, on the basis of dad's nationality. But her quest puts her at odds with a US law that gives fathers less status than mothers - a dispute that has wound up today before the US Supreme Court in an unusual and testy gender-discrimination case.

If Ms. Miller's mother were an American, the daughter could claim citizenship by age 21. No strings attached. But under a State Department policy for out-of-wedlock parents, fathers must prove a relationship with their foreign-born children by producing six different types of documents, including letters of commitment to support the child and proof of fatherhood. The case, Albright v. Miller, pits new views about the roles and legal status of the sexes against a policy the federal government says is a practical way to implement immigration policy today. It is one of the first significant gender cases since the historic high court ruling in 1996 requiring the all-male Virginia Military Institute (VMI) to admit women. If the high court should back Miller's claim that the policy violates the equal-protection clause of the Constitution, the number of eligible candidates for US citizenship from abroad would increase. In 1992, Miller applied to be an American citizen. Soon after, Charlie Miller claimed paternity, and a Texas court ruled he is indeed Lorelyn's father. When the US denied her citizenship application, the case went through a series of federal appeals - finally taking shape as a claim against a law that distinguishes between mothers and fathers of foreign-born children. That law is established by Congress and upheld by a 1970s high-court ruling called Fiallo, which backs a different approach for fathers than for mothers of children born abroad out of wedlock. Ruling on the Miller case, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld Fiallo, but not with enthusiasm. In a concurring opinion, Judge Patricia Wald articulated a leading view among many jurists, who may well include Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the high court: "It is important to underscore the extent to which Fiallo is out of step with the court's current refusal to {deny opportunities} to women or to men based on stereotypes or 'overbroad generalizations. …