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Many international law scholars have begun to argue that the modern world is experiencing a “decline of citizenship,” and that citizenship is no longer an important normative category. On the contrary, this paper argues that citizenship remains an important category and, consequently, one that implicates considerations of justice. I articulate and defend a “civic” notion of citizenship, one based explicitly on political values rather than shared demographic features like nationality, race, or culture. I use this premise to argue that a just citizenship policy requires some form of both the jus soli (citizenship based on location of birth) and the jus sanguinis (citizenship based on “blood” or descent) approaches to citizenship acquisition. In the course of this argument I show why arguments made by Peter Schuck, Rogers Smith, Peter Spiro, Linda Bosniak, and Ayelet Shachar, among others, against this view, are mistaken. This justice-based approach to citizenship also has significant implications for naturalization law and policy. First, I argue that it requires open and easy naturalization and show why the use of naturalization policy to foster national identification is wrong. Second, I demonstrate that if naturalization is easy and open, some rules limiting certain social benefits and privileges to citizens may be compatible with justice, thereby providing a foundation for future discussions of alienage law.


Immigration law, citizenship law, justice, fairness, politics, political values, citizens, naturalized citizen, aliens, ius soli, ius sanguinis, naturalize, government benefits

Publication Title

Maryland Law Review

Publication Citation

70 Md. L. Rev. 175 (2010)