Dispatches from the Creation Wars

U.S. Citizenship Test Has Wrong Answers

ProPublica has a really interesting article about a Canadian woman who just received American citizenship — but only because she gave answers she knew to be wrong on the citizenship test.

Friends told me I didn’t need to study, the questions weren’t that hard. But I wanted to and so for months I lugged around a set of government-issued flashcards [3], hoping to master the test. I pestered my family and friends to quiz me. Sometimes I quizzed my sources. I learned things (there are 27 amendments to the Constitution) and they learned things (there are 27 amendments to the Constitution). But then we began noticing errors in a number of the questions and answers.

Some examples:

Take Question 36. It asks applicants to name two members of the president’s Cabinet. Among the correct answers is “Vice President.” The vice president is a cabinet-level officer but he’s not a Cabinet member. Cabinet members are unelected heads of executive departments [4], such as the Defense Department, or the State Department.

The official naturalization test booklet even hints as much: “The president may appoint other government officials to the cabinet but no elected official may serve on the cabinet while in office.” Note to Homeland Security: The vice president is elected.

Still, a wonderful press officer in the New York immigration office noted that the White House’s own website [5] lists the vice president as a member of the Cabinet. It’s still wrong, I explained. I told her that my partner wrote an entire book about the vice president and won a Pulitzer Prize [6] for the stories. I was pretty sure about this one. A parade of constitutional scholars backed me up…

I also wasn’t asked Question 1: “What is the supreme law of the land?”

The official answer: “the Constitution.” A friend and legal scholar was aghast. That answer, he said, is “no more than one-third correct.” He’s right.

Article VI, clause 2 in the Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause [9], explicitly says that three things — the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties — together “shall be the supreme law of the land.”

Yep, those are mistakes.