Stripping Citizenship Unconstitutional, Unnecessary

Washington, DC Human Rights First today decried proposed legislation that would strip United States citizens of their citizenship for “providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization” or “engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against the United States” or any of its allies. The group stated that the legislation, introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Scott Brown and Congressmen Jason Altmire and Charlie Dent, is unconstitutional and unnecessary. It would undermine carefully constructed checks on government officials’ power that protect our country’s freedoms.

“This proposed knee-jerk reaction bill ignores the mandates of the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause which set severe limits on the government’s power to revoke citizenship. It also attempts to punish and render stateless individuals who have not been convicted of any crime, which violates both the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law. Fear is never an excuse to give government this kind of unchecked power,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar.

Eviatar continued, “This bill reeks of political posturing, not protecting America’s national security. It is a desperate attempt to go around the constitution and push these cases into the ineffective and legally questionable military commission system. They are not fooling anyone.”

Human Rights First noted that the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly and unequivocally that Congress does not have the power to strip any American of citizenship unless that individual has voluntarily relinquished his citizenship. Even committing the most heinous crimes does not automatically strip an American of his citizenship. As the Supreme Court said in Vance v. Terrazas, “In the last analysis, expatriation depends on the will of the citizen, rather than on the will of Congress and its assessment of his conduct.” Under the U.S. Constitution, the government must prove that the individual intended to relinquish his citizenship as well.

The Terrorist Expatriation Act proposed by Senators Lieberman and Brown and Congressmen Jason Altmire and Charlie Dent purports to allow the State Department to revoke citizenship based on a preponderance of the evidence, a much lighter burden than is required to secure a criminal conviction. The legislation is not only out of step with American law, but it also implicates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and that one’s citizenship may not be stripped arbitrarily.

“There are serious consequences that result from revoking someone’s citizenship. The Supreme Court has said that the matter is ‘no light trifle to be jeopardized any moment Congress decides to do so’ and that doing so ‘means that a man is left without the protection of citizenship in any country in the world.’ No member of Congress has the right or ability to undermine that kind of legal precedent,” Eviatar concluded.


Published on May 7, 2010


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