MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
A provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act requires that an alien who applies for naturalization as a United States citizen must establish that during the five years preceding the filing of his petition he has been "a person of good moral character."
At the final hearing before the District Judge, the Government produced two witnesses whose testimony indicated that the petitioner had been a member of the Communist Party in Hungary. Dr. Pal Halasz stated that he had known the petitioner when they were both students at the University of Budapest Medical School and had seen the petitioner attend Communist Party meetings there on one or more occasions. While such meetings were sometimes open to persons who were not Party members, and Dr. Halasz was not sure that the petitioner was a Party member, his attendance at Party meetings gave Dr. Halasz the impression that the petitioner was a member. Dr. Gyorgy Kury related that he had attended a study group at the University in September 1948. These groups met to discuss Marxist-Leninist ideology, and students were required to attend regardless of Party membership. One student in each group was responsible for leading this discussion. Dr. Kury testified that, at the meeting in question, the petitioner introduced himself as a member of the Communist Party and the student leader responsible for the group's ideological education. Dr. Kury further testified that the petitioner had told the group that he had become a member of the Communist Party after Soviet troops had occupied Hungary in 1945.
Basing his decision solely on his own evaluation of the testimony adduced at this hearing,
The petitioner asks us to reject as "clearly erroneous" the factual conclusion about his Party membership reached by the District Judge and accepted by the Court of Appeals. In order to do so, we would be forced to disregard this Court's repeated pronouncements that it "cannot undertake to review concurrent findings of fact by two courts below in the absence of a very obvious and exceptional showing of error." E. g., Graver Mfg. Co. v. Linde Co., 336 U.S. 271, 275. For there was no "very obvious and exceptional" error in the conclusion of the two courts below that the petitioner had been a member of the Communist Party. The testimony of Dr. Kury gave a concrete basis for this conclusion, and that of Dr. Halasz lent it further evidentiary support. The conclusion of the courts below is not inconsistent with the possibility that the petitioner may have harbored a strong opposition to the Party which he bared to his friends. For the petitioner may have
The policy underlying the "two-court" rule is obvious. This Court possesses no empirical expertise to set against the careful and reasonable conclusions of lower courts on purely factual issues. When, as here, resolution of the disputed factual issues turns largely on an assessment of the relative credibility of witnesses whose testimonial demeanor was observed only by the trial court, the rule has particular force. To be sure, this Court has not hesitated to undertake independent examination of factual issues when constitutional claims may depend on their resolution. See, e. g., Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, 271-272; Fiske v. Kansas, 274 U.S. 380, 385-386. Cf. Hoffa v. United States, ante, p. 293. But this exceptional doctrine has no application to the present case, for the petitioner makes no claim that any constitutional issues are involved here.
Different considerations do not govern merely because this is a naturalization case. When the Government seeks to strip a person of citizenship already acquired,
The petitioner points out that in deportation cases this Court has held that an alien may not be expelled from this country on the ground that he has been a member of the Communist Party unless his participation in the Party amounted to "meaningful association." Rowoldt v. Perfetto, 355 U.S. 115; Gastelum-Quinones v. Kennedy, 374 U.S. 469. He contends that the same rule should apply in the context of naturalization, and that the Government's proof in this case failed to establish "meaningful association." But the petitioner's application was not denied because of his Communist Party membership.
Even assuming that an alien may be denied citizenship on the statutory ground of Party membership only when "meaningful association" is shown, the broader question asked of the petitioner was certainly material and relevant. The Government is entitled to know of any facts that may bear on an applicant's statutory eligibility for citizenship, so that it may pursue leads and make further investigation if doubts are raised. The petitioner has never indicated that he was confused or misled by the scope of the question—that he believed at the time it was asked that the question reached only "meaningful association."
We cannot say that the District Court was wrong in finding that the petitioner had failed to tell the truth. It follows that the Court of Appeals was not in error in declining to upset that finding.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN concur, dissenting.
In this case we are confronted with the spectacle of a person admittedly loyal to the United States, and concededly opposed to communism being denied naturalization because the District Court found that he was not a "person of good moral character." This finding was in turn based upon a subsidiary finding that petitioner had, in the remote past, been a member of the Hungarian Communist Party, and had therefore lied when he stated
The Government's case was dependent upon the testimony of two witnesses. Dr. Pal Halasz testified that he had attended medical school in Hungary with petitioner. He did not attend classes with petitioner since he was a number of years behind. The total enrollment of the school was between 1,800 and 2,000. He did not know petitioner socially, but did talk to petitioner and "several times" petitioner helped Halasz with his studies. Halasz was a member of the Communist Party, he "believed" between 1948 and 1956. He could not say how often he attended meetings.
This was the only evidence the Government adduced to show that petitioner had been a member of the Communist Party. The abundance of evidence produced by petitioner can only be briefly summarized. Petitioner unequivocally testified under oath that he had never been a member of the Communist Party and had never attended a closed meeting. He did attend open meetings to which he had been invited and at which other non-Communists were present.
During the Hungarian uprising in October and November of 1956, petitioner was a member of the Hungarian Army, which he had joined in order to obtain finances to complete his medical education. Communist membership was not a condition for serving in the army. His unit fought the Russians, and petitioner was on duty treating people who were wounded in fighting.
He married a woman whose family's property had been confiscated by the Communist Government; his wife's family left Hungary to escape the Communist regime. His wife testified that she hated communism and the Communist Government of Hungary.
In 1956, petitioner and his wife fled the Communist regime, making their escape at great personal risk. Petitioner testified without equivocation to his opposition to communism, his loyalty and attachment to the United States and his willingness to fight and bear arms in the defense of this country. He absolutely denied making the statement attributed to him by Kury. After his escape, petitioner resumed his medical career in this country, is associated with a number of hospitals and has been a senior instructor on the staff of the Tufts Medical School.
Petitioner's wife testified that both she and petitioner hated communism and the Hungarian Communist Government, and while in Hungary constantly wanted to leave the country for freedom. Lorand De Bickish, a former Hungarian national who is now a naturalized United States citizen, also testified on petitioner's behalf. De Bickish was an avowed anti-Communist who had been arrested twice and imprisoned once for attempting to escape from the Hungarian Communist Government. He testified that he had been exiled to a small town
Two other witnesses testified that while in Hungary petitioner had often expressed his opposition to communism and the Hungarian Government and his desire to escape to a free country. They testified that, while in the United States, petitioner frequently expressed his gratitude at being here, and his love for the United States and the freedom it offered. It was stipulated that yet another witness would testify that petitioner opposed communism and was attached to the principles of the Constitution.
Thus we are confronted with the curious proposition that the speculations of one witness, and the hazy memory of another witness as to a statement made in the distant past, can outweigh the overwhelming evidence adduced by petitioner, and thereby prevent his naturalization. To me this is tantamount to saying that the Government can merely throw a very slim doubt into the case, and deny naturalization when the applicant fails to disprove the ephemeral doubt. It is no answer to say that the applicant in a naturalization proceeding bears the burden of showing his eligibility for citizenship. The crucial question is what the applicant must do successfully to bear his burden of persuasion. Nor is it an answer to say that doubts should be resolved in favor of the United States and against the applicant. The question is whether a "doubt" is present to be resolved. Must the applicant tilt with every windmill thrown in his path by the Government? In this case there was no "doubt" to be resolved in the Government's favor. If
APPENDIX TO OPINION OF MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, DISSENTING.
Pal Halasz, the chief witness against petitioner in the District Court, testified as follows:
"Q. Did you ever see a card showing that Dr. Kalman Berenyi was a member of the Communist Party?
"A. No. I never have seen a card.
"Q. Did he ever tell you or admit to you that he was a member of the Communist Party?
"Q. Did he in any way participate in these so-called meetings of any kind?
"Q. In what way?
"A. Well, he had to be there.
"Q. Well, other than put his body into a chair and to sit down at that meeting did he do anything else?
"A. I can't recall.
"Q. Now isn't it a fact that there were many noncommunists who were called to these meetings?
"Q. And would you say out of a class or group of 40 people, how many would be noncommunists?
"Q. . . . But in this group that you referred to where you claim you saw Dr. Kalman Berenyi how many people would be present?
"A. Well, I would say about 120-150 people.
"Q. Do you know for a fact, sir, that Kalman Berenyi knew it to be a Communist Party meeting on the occasions when he did attend it, according to your testimony?
"A. You ask me if he knew that was a Communist Party meeting going on. Well, I don't know if he was told or not.
"Q. Now isn't it a fact also that at these so-called meetings indoctrination took place, trying to convert and induce noncommunists to join?
"Q. Did you ever see a Communist Party book in the possession of Dr. Kalman Berenyi?
"A. No, I did not.
"Q. And did you know from your Party records, if you know of any, that he was listed as a Communist Party member?
"A. I never have seen such a Party record.
"Q. Now, Dr. Halasz, on direct examination you testified that he attended these meetings which you called Communist Party meetings?
"Q. Can you tell us with some degree of certainty as to how many meetings you saw Dr. Berenyi at?
"A. No, I can't tell that. Possible I see him maybe two or three times.
"A. That is all.
"A. It could be more or it could be once?
"Q. You kept no records on it?
"Q. And he was not active in anything? He just sat there?
"A. Oh, he was active, helping the rest of the students to study his medical science.
"Q. But at the so-called meetings once, twice or three times he never said a word, is that right?
"A. No. Unless he was straight asked because it can happen that somebody was asked straight about certain things.
"Q. Do you know now whether Dr. Berenyi attended open or closed meetings?
"A. I can't recall.
"Q. Did you ever have any discussions with Dr. Berenyi concerning his beliefs in Communism or the principles of Communism?
"A. Oh. sometimes certain things came up, certain questions. He didn't say too much; and if he said something, it wasn't for the favor of the Communists.
"Q. And as a result of your talk with Kalman Berenyi, could you tell this Court what his feelings were towards Communism?
"A. I don't believe he was a Communist, even if he was a member of the Communist Party. I don't believe he was Communist in heart.
"Q. Do you assert that he is a member—do you assert that he was a member of the Communist Party?
"A. I thought he was a member of the Communist Party because I have seen him on those certain meetings.
"A. That is right."
And it appears that even at the so-called "closed party meetings," noncommunists were admitted. For a "closed party meeting" was explained by Halasz to mean "that only the Party members can say anything or vote on any subject:"
"The Court. But it was possible that non-Communists —when I say `noncommunists,' they who were not members of the Party were present, but if they were present, they were not allowed to speak and they were not allowed to vote, is that right?
"The Witness. That is right, yes."
"No person, except as otherwise provided in this title, shall be naturalized unless such petitioner, (1) immediately preceding the date of filing his petition for naturalization has resided continuously, after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence, within the United States for at least five years and during the five years immediately preceding the date of filing his petition has been physically present therein for periods totaling at least half of that time, and who has resided within the State in which the petitioner filed the petition for at least six months, (2) has resided continuously within the United States from the date of the petition up to the time of admission to citizenship, and (3) during all the periods referred to in this subsection has been and still is a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States."
"For the purposes of this Act—No person shall be regarded as, or found to be, a person of good moral character who, during the period for which good moral character is required to be established, is, or was—. . . (6) one who has given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any benefits under this Act . . . ."
"Findings by the Court. (a) Effect. . . . Findings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge of the credibility of the witnesses."
"(a) . . . no person shall hereafter be naturalized as a citizen of the United States—
"(2) who is a member of or affiliated with . . . (D) the Communist or other totalitarian party . . . of any foreign state . . . .
"(c) The provisions of this section shall be applicable to any applicant for naturalization who at any time within a period of ten years immediately preceding the filing of the petition for naturalization or after such filing and before taking the final oath of citizenship is, or has been found to be within any of the classes enumerated within this section, notwithstanding that at the time the petition is filed he may not be included within such classes."