Lieberman “Terrorist Expatriation Act”- Constitutional But Meaningless
Joe Lieberman has just rolled out a bill (text here) which would strip individuals associated with foreign terrorist groups of their US citizenship.
He’s been playing this as if it were a minor statutory fix. It’s true, as he’s been stressing, that current law terminates citizenship for “entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state if (a) such armed forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States, or (b) such persons serves as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer.” 8 U.S.C. 1481. But that applies only where such service is undertaken “with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality.”
That’s not just some statutory nicety. The Supreme Court has found it a constitutional necessity. Afroyim v. Rusk (1967) is the lead case, in which the Court found unconstitutional expatriation for the act of voting in a foreign political election. In Vance v. Terrazas (1968), the Court found that
we are confident that it would be inconsistent with Afroyim to treat the expatriating acts specified in § 1481(a) as the equivalent of or as conclusive evidence of the indispensable voluntary assent of the citizen. “Of course,” any of the specified acts “may be highly persuasive evidence in the particular case of a purpose to abandon citizenship.” But the trier of fact must in the end conclude that the citizen not only voluntarily committed the expatriating act prescribed in the statute, but also intended to relinquish his citizenship.
Now, these rulings do allow the government to terminate citizenship on the basis of conduct alone, without a formal renunciation before a consular officer, so long as that conduct reflects a specific intent to relinquish citizenship. It was (consistent with Terrazas) long presumed that naturalization in another state reflected a desire on the part of individual to shed his US citizenship. That’s no longer the case. As a matter of administrative practice, the State Department since the 1990 has presumed individuals intend to retain their citizenship except where they expressly renounce before a US consular official. This is true even if the oath of naturalization in another country includes an express renunciation of US citizenship. Service in a foreign military? Not a problem, Lieberman’s implication to the contrary.
So Lieberman’s proposal could reverse that practice, and the State Department would once again have to contend with with Terrazas. Intent to relinquish would be pretty hard to establish, Shahzad’s case included. (About the only case that would be a slam-dunk for the State Department would be this one: a guy who shreds his passport on YouTube.) That’s the first way in which it would be ineffective: you just end up with another layer of litigation, about the last thing that anti-terror policies need after almost a decade of up-the-courts, down-the-courts delay.
And all for what, exactly? Citizenship makes a difference only with respect to a small slice of one anti-terror policies. By statute, the use of military commissions can only be used in the prosecution of noncitizens. Under Verdugo, nonresident noncitizens don’t enjoy Fourth Amendment protections. But remember what citizenship doesn’t protect you against: even Obama has authorized the targeted killing of citizens abroad, and Hamdi doesn’t mandate full due process for citizen detainees.
Lieberman and cosponsors try to frame this as a matter of prevention, depriving terrorists of the valuable tool of a US passport. This is nonsense. Anyone visibly affiliated with a terror group is already going to be on all sorts of no-fly and surveillance lists before that affiliation would warrant proceeding with expatriation. A passport isn’t much of a weapon then.
Not even the Bush Administration went in this direction. John Walker Lindh fought with the Taliban, a foreign military engaged in hostilities against the U.S.; DOJ considered the expatriation option, but didn’t pursue it. Ditto for Hamdi himself (he ended up voluntarily relinquishing citizenship as part of an agreement leading to his release). At least one draft of a draft Patriot Act sequel included provision similar to Lieberman’s that went nowhere.
I don’t expect this to become law, and if it does, it won’t be put to much work. This is more anti-terror showboating than anything else.