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

John S.

May 28th, 2010
6:42 am

Right again Bob. A gimmick like this–though it may sound like a desirable tool in the short term, will end up, with a few tweaks, being used as a weapon against any of us who my find ourselves dissidents in our own land. (And many of us are getting there faster then we can possibly know.)

xjug1987

May 28th, 2010
7:21 am

What needs to happen is if you are born here, but neither of your parents are citizens, neither are you! This illegal alien tactic of coming here illegally, then having 15 kids so they can suck the teet of the nation needs to end. I cannot believe no one is talking about it. If they cannot give citizenship to their progeny, they’ll stop coming in the masses they have been. They don’t care about the nation as evidenced by the recent protests with the Mexican flag above the US flag, all they care about is the cash. Deport every last one of them, and remove the citizenship they stole by having their kids for free in our hospitals, then educated for free in the pathetic public schools, and free healthcare and who knows what other freebies they get. We’re nearly $20Trillion in debt people, it not only needs to stop, but needs to be rolled back. We have to not only STOP the debt, but start paying it back, NOW!

Antilibturd

May 29th, 2010
6:37 am

By the way BP, don’t you Libcracks take US history anymore in Libschool, oops, I mean High School? The KKK was a proud Southern Dem orgnization! Just saying…………………………….

John Q Public

May 29th, 2010
6:46 am

While I support tough laws against all forms of terrorism, including deportation, but I am deeply troubled by several parts of this bill? First, the prospect of a “government official” having the power to strip citizenship without a trial should be a red flag to ALL Americans given the yahoos who are currently holding government positions under Obozo and the Clown Posse??!! Secondly, the broad definition of what constitutes “support” for terrorism is also very troubling due to the possibility that a person can be stripped of citizenship simply for supporting said terrorists/terrorist organization without having engaged in any conspiracy or actual acts of terrorism? Remember, this can be done WITHOUT a trial per this bill!

John Q Public

May 29th, 2010
6:59 am

If the Lib Lefties think this does not apply to them, they should think again! There are extremists on their side as well, older groups like Weather Underground, SLA and the Black Panthers come to mind as well as newer groups like Greenpeace, Earth Liberation Front (ELF), Animal Liberation Front (ALF)and other ecoterrorist or animal rights extremists, militant pro-Hispanic/Hispanofacist groups like, LULAC, MALDEF, MEChA/MEXA, La Raza Unida Party, Voz de Aztlan, Brown Berets would be in the same pickle as the right wing extremist groups!

John Q Public

May 29th, 2010
7:02 am

This bill in it’s current form is too vague, without specific stipulations about who, what and how and neither does it protect those American citizens who may mistakingly be prosecuted under this bill whether due to an error like the people who have been put on the terrorist watch list by mistake and cannot fly without a gargantuan hassle because of this error or as an innocent party to a criminal misrepresentation? In addition to the flight hassle, your citizenship is revoked as well?

John Q Public

May 29th, 2010
7:08 am

Will political opposition/dissent against the government be defined as support for terrorism? Will Christian Fundamentalists who are opposed to Left leaning political personalities who are government officials be singled out as “dangerous” extremists and be put on the terrorism watch list compiled by Homeland Security? Will this constitute an act of terrorism or support for a terrorist organization with subsequent revocation of citizenship without a trial? Does this bill make it possible for American citizens to be subjected to widespread government abuse? Will government officials with a personal dislike or grudge against certain partisan entities be able to label said entity as a terrorist organization then revoke the citizenship of those citizens who are associated with or support this group?

John Q Public

May 29th, 2010
7:13 am

Imagine donating money to a religious charity, thinking you are helping those who are in need, then unbeknownst to you, this “charity” has terrorist ties either because of people who are members or by virtue of the proceeds ending up supporting a terror group like Al Qaeda? Does an innocent contributer who really did not know or have anything to do with any terror group deserve to have their citizenship stripped without trial? Are you getting the picture yet?

ozz,

May 31st, 2010
6:33 pm

Commenting on a few of the posts as well as the subject bill being discussed. The bill if it were to become law would be basically ignored as are any other bills/laws of which the sorry assed politicians choose to ignore. Namely the immigration law and the protection of illegal’s, terrorists, drugs, and whatever else entering. the country through the southern border. The first priority ought to be closure of the southern border, deportation of the illegal’s, or putting them in hard labor camps if they refuse to leave or re-enter the country. Trying any/all terrorist on treason charges, including the politicians who are aiding and abetting the terrorist, including the self imposed king (Obama). One problem with that is with their self imposed immunity,as well as the cover-up for each other, and the ignorant mentality of many in our country. It makes prosecution of them difficult at best (remember Clintons circus?). One example of which are the groups protesting the Arizona immigration law, including Obama. They are against the law and have not read it, (no surprise there, they do not read any they pass until later). The immigrant groups are so afraid of losing their freebies, they are hollering racist, (because the politicians will buckle) and anti brown movement. I could give a damn less what color they are if they were in the country legally, if they had an allegiance to our country. It is all a part of an organized movement to destroy the country. They are infiltrating our city, county, state, and federal governments. Some years ago I had a Mexican national working for me, and he often spoke of the movement that was forming and would be building (as it is today) I as many people ignored such warnings, and sadly it is becoming reality.

American

June 24th, 2010
3:37 am

As an American, I am ashamed and surprised to say that the United States is quite hypocritical. Americans like to say that they love freedom and justice, but here are some examples of where American actions conflict with American standards:

1. The US inspected a Soviet Union fighter jet that landed in Japan in 1976, but protested that China should not search an American plane that landed in China in 2001.

2. The Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights clearly states that people should not be subject to the same offense twice, but sex offenders can be convicted of crimes and then later be required to register as sex offenders and be held for life under indefinite civil commitment laws even after they complete their original sentences. “John TV” shows that embarrass and punish people arrested on prostitution charges also violate the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process rights.

3. The Sixth Amendment guaranteeing the right to speedy trials is violated by holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without charge. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments and is violated by torturing Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Whether the prisoners are foreigners or not makes no difference because it violates the intent of the Constitution and sends the message to other nations that human rights violations are acceptable. Taking the moral high ground is difficult when you are immoral yourself. If you want to prevent terrorism, give terrorists a trial, improve airline security, and don’t give out visas easily. Torturing a suspected terrorists only recruits more terrorists. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

4. The Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches is violated by the Patriot Act that allows secret warrants.

5. The Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches and seizures, the Fifth amendment that allows due process, and the Eighth Amendment that forbids excessive bail, fines, and cruel and unusual punishment are all violated by DUI checkpoints and asset forfeiture laws.

6. The Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches and the Fourteenth Amendment that guarantees equal protection of the law is violated by Arizona’s immigration law that requires police to question people who look like illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration would be better stopped by having a strong border and fining employers of illegal immigrants, not by profiling Americans who look like foreigners.

Maybe it is just human nature, but Americans have always looked for an enemy to blame from witches to blacks to Communists. Today people are aghast that the US had Japanese concentration camps and once allowed slavery and segregation. How will people look back on the treatment of sex offenders, Muslims, and illegal immigrants in the USA 60 years from now?

Criminals should be punished, but only in a way that doesn’t violate the Constitution. Even innocent people can be arrested and wrongly convicted.

If you care about your freedom, write your elected officials. Governments would love to take away all your freedom if they could. Our freedoms are diminishing, not growing. Stand up, fight for your rights, and protect our freedom now!

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First they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me, but there was no one left to speak for me.

If only one person is not free, then no one is free.

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.