Knee-jerk “loss of citizenship” bill is unconstitutional and unnecessary

The post-Times Square hysteria continues in the Congress.  In all-too-typical fashion, the “security-at-all-costs” crowd, led by Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, has introduced legislation that would empower federal bureaucrats to strip an American of their citizenship if the government decides they might have provided some sort of support to a terrorist organization.

On the surface, of course, many Americans likely would tend to support a law stripping citizenship from someone who has been proved to have engaged in terrorist acts against our country or our military; and Sen. Lieberman’s bill — the Terrorist Expatriation Act of 2010 – will therefore probably garner some not-insignificant degree of support in the Congress.  Such support, however, on more careful reading of the legislation, would be misplaced and set a dangerous precedent.

American citizenship is a right enjoyed by anyone born in this country or who has satisfied the requirements to become a naturalized citizen.  Moreover, under current federal law one can lose their citizenship if they engage in actions clearly indicating a desire to renounce their American citizenship.  Thus, if a person takes an oath of allegiance to a foreign government, or serves as an officer in the military of another nation, they can be deemed to have renounced their citizenship and lose it.  Also, if a person if convicted in a civilian court or in a military court martial of committing crimes such as treason or conspiring to overthrow the government, they can lose their citizenship.

Importantly, given the constitutional basis on which someone gains American citizenship, it is not easily lost; current law and Supreme Court rulings provide that it can be taken for specified reasons only after a court proceeding. Contrary to these important principles, however, this latest, knee-jerk response to a single attempted terrorist act, would empower a non-elected government official (the secretary of state or a designee) to strip away a person’s American citizenship (regardless of whether the person gained citizenship by birth or naturalization) without any court proceeding.  In other words, a natural-born American citizen could find themselves stripped of their citizenship by a government bureaucrat without ever having had their day in court.

Such cavalier treatment of a fundamental right granted in the Constitution should trouble every member of Congress and every American who understands and supports constitutionally-based governance; especially perhaps conservatives, who at least in the past shared a healthy distrust of government power.  Unfortunately, in the post-911 world, such “technicalities” as constitutional rights and guarantees often take a back seat to so-called “security concerns.”

Security-firsters are pushing this current legislation because they want people like the failed Times Square bomber to be interrogated and tried by military commissions rather than courts of law; and military commissions do not, at least for now, have jurisdiction to try US citizens.

Another troubling aspect of the Terrorist Expatriation Act is that a person could be stripped of citizenship even if they do not actively engage in violent acts of any sort; but if they simply provide some sort of “material support” to an organization designated by the federal government as “terrorist.”  Here again, a layperson might support such a move with a quick, “hell, yes.”  The discerning analyst, however, would be far less quick to grant such power to a federal bureaucrat.  Why?  Because “material support” is a vague and imprecise term subject to wide interpretation; encompassing perhaps nothing more than a person contributing money to an organization that provides relief to people in a faraway part of the world in a country where terrorists might be operating. 

The proposed law suffers from other vagaries; such as subjecting a person to involuntary loss of citizenship if they support “hostilities” not against the United States, but against some other nation that itself might be supporting American armed forces.  Such tenuous acts should not form the basis for involuntary loss of citizenship, especially without a full hearing and trial in a legitimate court of law.

Given that current laws criminalizing acts of terrorism are broad-reaching and carry stiff punishment (including the death penalty) upon conviction, these latest efforts to significantly expand the reach and power of federal officials, and correspondingly diminish the scope of constitutional protection for US citizens, are not only unconstitutional but totally unnecessary.

60 comments Add your comment

T-Town

May 21st, 2010
6:39 am

Pray tell, which side is pushing this agenda?

resno2

May 21st, 2010
6:43 am

If I, a natural born citizen, were to commit a terrorist act against this country I would be charged with treason, and would be sentenced as such, up to and including death. Since gaining citizenship into this country is an honor, and if gaining that citizenship is only being used as an opportunity to commit a terrorist act, that person should be held to the same standards as a natural born citizen and tried with treason. Up to, and hopefully, including death.

Stripping them of their citizenship does nothing, because that citizenship meant nothing to them to begin with.

Peadawg

May 21st, 2010
6:49 am

“strip an American of their citizenship if the government decides they might have provided some sort of support to a terrorist organization.”

I think it’s a fantastic idea!!! Enough with defending these animals.

resno2

May 21st, 2010
7:06 am

If the animals at Gitmo were US citizens they would have been tried and convicted already.

Road Scholar

May 21st, 2010
7:18 am

Try them for treason, and then shoot them! They made their desicion..let them live (or die) with their acts. I know this may be difficult for conservatives since they want to shoot them,….and then try them! Ready, fire, aim!

kws

May 21st, 2010
7:28 am

Let’s see if I understand this, a naturalized citizen can run and be elected to government office (all but the office of president), declare me, a naturial citizen, of American Indian decent, as, in his opinion, to have commited a terroristic activity, and have my citizenship stripped… Given enough time, and enough of the right people in office, all of America will have NON-AMERICANS as citizens…. A bit over the top… buy possible…

Al Gore

May 21st, 2010
7:32 am

When I invented this country, I meant for everyone to get along. If you try to do bad things against us, then you can’t be on our team and deserve time out.

Byron Mathison Kerr

May 21st, 2010
7:34 am

Just as the floors of the World Trade Center towers pancaked one onto another to crash into the ground, the dominoes of 9-11 are still falling to weaken the core foundations this country holds most dear.

Who would have ever thought any sane American would advocate “loss of citizenship” even before being proven guilty?

This is how we lose the fight. This is the true success of terrorism.

Morrus

May 21st, 2010
7:38 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.

Scout

May 21st, 2010
7:47 am

I would rather see a bill that to be an American citizen one must be born of parents who are BOTH American citizens EVEN if you were physically born in the United States !

George P Burdell

May 21st, 2010
7:50 am

“Because “material support” is a vague and imprecise term subject to wide interpretation; encompassing perhaps nothing more than a person contributing money to an organization that provides relief to people in a faraway part of the world in a country where terrorists might be operating.” Sort of like the vague and imprecise term in the Constitution that allows a President to be impeached for “high crimes and misdeamenors”. Did the imprecise term “high crimes and misdeamenors” stop Mr. Barr when he was in Congress. Certainly not. So why does he hypocritaclly worry about imprecise terms now?

Nan

May 21st, 2010
8:04 am

Mr. Barr, I wish you had been this rational when you were serving in Congress. I fear, however, that if you were still an elected official rather than simply commenting from the sidelines, you’d be right there with Lieberman et al. busy stoking up the fears of an ignorant populace.

nelsonhoward

May 21st, 2010
8:11 am

As it stands now a person can be stripped of their citizenship for “committing any act of treason against, or attempting by force, to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States, violating or conspiring to violate any of section 2383 of title 18, by engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow or destroy by force, the Government of the United States or to lay war against them”

However, this is only after the defendant has had a trial and proof of guilt beyond any reasonable doubt has been determined.

The Terrorist Expatriation Act of 2010 would circumvent Trial by jury, one of the most sacred laws of the country. That is not right. The Senator Liberman Bill is wrong, very wrong.

Rusty G.

May 21st, 2010
8:22 am

Vagaries are obviously a threat to the rule of law and liberty, but as someone else points out, “material support” is no more vague than “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The only concern I have is that loss of citizenship is a lower bar, and more likely to be enforced than, say, death.

Bob, sometimes I think you post things solely to establish your libertarian and independent credentials. You seem to want to be seen disagreeing with “conservatives” from time to time, even if your argument is internally inconsistent. Your analysis of the Arizona law and this appear to fall in this camp.

J

May 21st, 2010
8:36 am

Under our current laws i.e. the Patriot Act, the Founding Fathers themselves would have been considered terrorists. Did they not throw off their government with a violent revolution?..even under threat of treason and death from King George III. I find it funny that these “security-firsters” don’t have the courage to call the Founders terrorists in public but they classify actions committed by the Founders terroristic activities. I would encourage all these “security-firsters” to read the Constitution. All acts of Congress stand below the Constitution legally(see Article 6 the Supremecy Clause), including the Patriot Act, which means that the Patriot Act cannot override the Bill of Rights including the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th amendments which the Patriot Act gutted. To me both the Patriot Act and this Terrorist Expatriation Act are treasonous to both the Constitution and the spirit of America law and due process. If we throw out these bedrock principals of liberty, freedom, and due process then everything America has accomplished means nothing anymore.

Juri Prudence

May 21st, 2010
8:37 am

How far can the loony right take their desire for puritanical purity, Hitler must be laughing with glee in his grave…

neo-Carlinist

May 21st, 2010
8:42 am

I say pass the bill, then we can deport Lieberman for “supporting” Al Gore (environmental terrorist). this is the same old/same old. on some level it might make sense to remove the bad apples from the barrel, but who gets to determine who and who is not a bad apple, and who gets to define “bad apple”? in all seriousness, not all terrorists use bombs – many (politicians/courts) use the law and the police power of the state to “terrorize” others.

Willibekind

May 21st, 2010
8:56 am

This problem has occured because progressive liberals hate America and want to create it in their image. They do not want to punish those who attack and kill our citizens or protect our citizens if the criminal is a minority–Our southern border for instance. It is simply an attack on conservatives who have traditional values as our forefathers. The media nor the government of Obama will say most terrorists are radical islamist. The progressive liberals really do not understand if the Islamist get a foot hold then the progressive liberals will lose out.

Willibekind

May 21st, 2010
8:58 am

Juri Prudence

May 21st, 2010
8:37 am
How would you like to live under Sharia. I bet you prefer that over the republic.

Not Blind

May 21st, 2010
9:27 am

#1: I would like to see a 10 year ‘probation’ period for naturalized citizens. For 10 years after they gain their citizenship if they commit any felony, treason, etc it costs them their citizenship and they are deported and banned form the US forever.

#2. Our current citizenship policy is being exploited in immoral and un-American ways by illegal aliens [ re: anchor babies ]. The future of our country is already being undermined and the slide will only gain speed. This should be addressed quickly. Unfortunately it’s not even being discussed in Washington.

Dan

May 21st, 2010
9:28 am

People like willibekind add nothing to the discussion – you assign blame on “progressive liberals” who hate America and are at odds with “conservatives who have traditional values”. Way to view this as an “us vs. them” problem. Last I checked all Americans had a right to an opinion and if someone holds an opinion different than your own, it doesn’t make them any less of an American than you. Life isn’t as simple as your false idols in the conservative news media preach it to you. You’re not always “right” and differing viewpoints aren’t always “wrong”. Your lack of open mindedness and ability to rationally analyze the argument are pathetic. I pity any children you may have that will grow up in the shadow of your ignorance.

Juri Prudence

May 21st, 2010
9:59 am

Willie,

I don’t think it’s necessary to change the constitution because some coward farts….

Jeff Fryer

May 21st, 2010
10:03 am

What part of “Public Safety Exception” to all laws inherent in the spirit of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” doesn’t the Libertarian mindset accept? Barr is guilty of beating the dead horse of big government until punditry itself has become a game of horseshoes (and handgrenades): getting close to the truth shouldn’t be considered making a valid point.

Just stick with the truth: without public safety exceptions as made popular by Jack Bauer on the popular television show “24″, our country would be a sitting duck for terrorists.

Quack. In his defense, at least he didn’t mention chicken you-know-who again.

jconservative

May 21st, 2010
10:14 am

From the US Constitution:

“Article 3.
Section 2
The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury;”

“Section 3
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

“Amendment 5
…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;”

“Amendment 14
1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States….”

For 221 years the Constitution has been getting in the way of those who would like to reduce the liberties of American citizens. Pray that it continues to do so.

Scout

May 21st, 2010
10:24 am

NO MORE “ANCHOR” BABIES !!!

Rational Person

May 21st, 2010
10:37 am

that would empower federal bureaucrats to strip an American of their citizenship

Also, if a person if convicted in a civilian court or in a military court martial of committing crimes such as treason or conspiring to overthrow the government, they can lose their citizenship.
Another troubling aspect of the Terrorist Expatriation Act is that a person could be stripped of citizenship even if they do not actively engage in violent acts of any sort; but if they simply provide some sort of “material support” to an organization designated by the federal government as “terrorist.”

—————-

If you’re being paid to write a column, Bob, couldn’t you make your pronouns agree with their antecedents?

Otherwise, a pretty sensible column.

J

May 21st, 2010
10:49 am

Jeff Fryer
“Public Safety Exception” has been the cry of all tyrants through out history to justify the oppresion of people. Secondly you can’t cure a disease by treating the symptoms you must treat the cause. These people don’t attack us because they hate us for our freedom, they attack us because we use our military and economic might to bully and steal the wealth of their economies. Dr. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago is considered one of the leading experts in the world on terrorism. He just released a report saying of the 700+ terrorist attacks around the globe since 1970 they have occured in countries in which the U.S. military or intelligence officials currently occupies at the time of the attack. Is it coincidence then that that only 10% have occured in counties we don’t occupy? The CIA term is called “blowback” Both Dr. Pape and former head of the CIA Micheal Sheuer both agree our foreign policy is the major contributor to the movivation of terrorists. That is why our Founders were against empires. So you don’t have to shread the Constitution or restrict our liberties to keep us safe, we instead need to address our foreign policy and how we treat others around the world and quit giving them reasons to hate us.

J

May 21st, 2010
10:55 am

I would like to clarify that when I say “we” above that I mean our government, not all Americans. I believe for the most part the American people want a more humble foreign policy like that of our Founders, but our government does not because the military industrial complex and the international banking cartel can’t make money without wars, and our government doesn’t have an excuse to strip us of our rights for “protection” without wars.

Scout

May 21st, 2010
11:11 am

Bob:

Did you see Luckovich’s cartoon today?

It shows “Lady Liberty” missing from her pedastal and a bunch of people in a boat with the caption, “She was here illegally and got deported back to France.”

I have a suggestion for you to pass on to him.

How about drawing one of an Arizona rancher shoot to death outside his home as an illegal alien with a smoking gun stands over him and the caption, “He was here illegally and the rancher got deported to eternity.”

Carlos

May 21st, 2010
12:33 pm

I guess that the american citizenship should be granted to those who at least have a minimal knowledge about the constitution. To be born in a country can be an accident but citizenship should be granted to those who stick to the constitution. Nowadays to be an american citizen has been devalued and is granted to almost everybody, including those who have been in the country 20 or 30 years, can’t name a president and can’t understand English. I will not go with those who have benefited from the lottery program.That’s why immigration reform is urgently needed.

joan

May 21st, 2010
1:27 pm

Citizens accused of treason, should be tried and if found guilty, executed. Just ask Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

joan

May 21st, 2010
1:28 pm

Scout: Luckovitch’s head has been so far up his, that he hasn’t seen daylight in years.

Jefferson

May 21st, 2010
2:30 pm

Cheer up joan, things are going good.

Scout

May 21st, 2010
3:43 pm

joan:

LOL ! I have sent him several suggestions over time ………. his liberal crayons never bite ………. :o

BP

May 21st, 2010
6:40 pm

Deport Scout.

Curtis

May 21st, 2010
6:42 pm

How many neo nazis tatoos do you have Scout? I bet you have one of those rebel flag tags on the front of your truck too.

BP

May 21st, 2010
6:50 pm

Scout

May 21st, 2010
10:24 am
NO MORE “ANCHOR” BABIES !!!

NO MORE RACIST SCUMBAG TRASH LIKE SCOUT!!!!

C.J. Danforth

May 21st, 2010
6:56 pm

Brown isn’t your favorite color, huh Scout.

Scout

May 21st, 2010
7:10 pm

BP: Ah, I see you are into the normal liberal namecalling and vitriolic intolerance instead of debate.

Curtis: Actually, I have a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran tag on the front of my vehcile.

Danforth: Red, white and blue are my favorite colors.

Jeff Fryer

May 21st, 2010
10:51 pm

even if the new last refuge of a scoundrel is the public safety exception, it is a necessary part of the war on terror

Jeff Fryer

May 21st, 2010
10:54 pm

“Pray tell, which side is pushing this agenda?”

Don’t Pray, Don’t Tell

Knee jerk to the groin

May 22nd, 2010
7:44 am

There should be a public safety exception for every single amendment to the constitution especially woman’s suffrage. If Palin runs in 2012, we should employ the public safety exception to prevent any women-folk from using the 19th amendment, (which is solely responsible for the total mess this country is in now), and voting for her.

Then it’s on to revoking all women’s drivers licenses and that should make America the new Utopia, reducing our dependence on terrorist’s oil, and exterminating every vestige of the expectant-mother’s-only parking places from the face of the earth.

Hung like a hamster

May 22nd, 2010
8:13 am

????????????????????????????

Liver Lip

May 22nd, 2010
8:14 am

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

J

May 22nd, 2010
8:33 am

Jeff Fryar

“War on Terror”. Please explain to me how do you declare war on a tactic. Terrorism is a tactic, not a country nor a government. War is a legal concept, which why the Founders required Congress to vote on a pass any official declaration of war. So how can “Terror” legally surrender? At what point do we win said war and how will we know? Simple put, terrorism is a tactic and you can’t declare war on a tactic. And since its a never ending war because there is no one to surrender then it gives the Executive Branch permanent dictatorial/emergency powers that were only meant for temporary times of extreme emergency. Terrorism isn’t a military problem, its a police problem. That is why after 8 years in Iraq and Afganistan we have accomplished very little. You fight terrorism with good intelligence information and good police work not armies. Which is another reason that terrorist should be tried in civilian courts, because they are criminals not prisoners of war. If the are POW’s then all that torture down at Guantonomo Bay is even more against the law than it already is, due to the Geneva Convention.

Margos Snatcher

May 22nd, 2010
9:07 am

Wrongo, J. This is a War with Islam. Are best move would be to unleash the fury of our good ole USA born-again Christians and kick arse…

Whiteman Sayeth

May 23rd, 2010
10:28 am

I’ve never seen a finer member of the Kneset as Lieberman.

American

May 26th, 2010
12:16 am

In the soviet union you become a enemy of the state (terrorist) for many different reasons,like opposing the colectivization or the unions.The point is that in the future many more rasons will be added for stripping someone from his citizenship.Do not let government to control you.The result is Gulag.Government should not be invoilved in education for example et,c.

Woofus

May 27th, 2010
8:34 pm

It is is no longer true that “if a person takes an oath of allegiance to a foreign government, or serves as an officer in the military of another nation, they can be deemed to have renounced their citizenship and lose it.” Many dual U.S.-Israeli citizens serve in the Israeli military, for example. Numerous others acquire a second citizenship (thus requiring an oath of allegiance), with no adverse effects on their U.S. citizenship. I realize that you’re getting this language from some official publication, but the map is not the territory.

Colin Brown

May 27th, 2010
10:59 pm

Strip the citizenship of these tea party rebels who are in cahoots with various state militias. Good. We need to deport them all to the back woods with the Palin woman.