Do you have to be a US citizen to become a notary? The question is more complicated than you might think, and the answer may surprise you.
Before 1984, most states required a notary to be a US citizen, a resident of the state where they were applying to be a notary, or both.
Then came the case of Bernal v. Fainter, 467 U.S. 216, 104 S. Ct. 2312, 81 L. Ed. 2d 175 (1984). In this case, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of a resident alien whose application to become a notary in Texas had been denied on grounds of non-citizenship. The Supreme Court ruled that requiring US citizenship for notaries was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which extends equal protection of the law to all persons within the jurisdiction of a state. More specifically, the Court ruled that a notary’s duties do not require citizenship because they are essentially “clerical and ministerial,” only requiring the notary to follow applicable laws regarding document authorization, not requiring the notary to make policy or to execute judgment or discretion on behalf of the state the way certain types of public servants like police officers do.
Despite this ruling, many states’ statutes still list US citizenship requirements for notaries.
Confused? You’re not alone. When in doubt, your best bet is to check with your own state regulations, and a knowledgeable attorney.