The Terrorist Expatriation Act

This is ultimately a non-starter (I think), but still worthy of comment:

The Terrorist Expatriation Act, co-sponsored by Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, would allow the State Department to revoke the citizenship of people who provide support to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or who attack the United States or its allies.

Ultimately, I am not sure what the point would be.  If someone is arrested on US soil, whether citizen or foreigner, they still get basic constitutional protections.  Further, if someone was found guilty of al Qaeda ties, it isn’t like we are simply going to deport them (see, e.g., Guantánamo).  Further, if a US citizen is found guilty of terrorism, it isn’t as if the suspect’s citizenship status will forestall life in prison or execution, depending on the crime.

What’s especially troubling, in my mind at least, about the proposed law is that the process to revoke citizenship is an administration one, as opposed to a judicial one.  From Lieberman’s remarks introducing the bill:

The State Department will make an administrative determination that a U.S. Citizen has indicated an intent to renounce their citizenship by supporting an FTO.

First, I am not sure what problem this actually solves.

Second, making this is into a bureaucratic decision hardly seems appropriate, especially given the nebulous nature of the discussion.  Not exactly a “limited government” move, shall we say,

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Terrorism, US Constitution, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. PD Shaw says:

    Ultimately, I am not sure what the point would be. If someone is arrested on US soil, whether citizen or foreigner, they still get basic constitutional protections.

    I’ve asked this a few places and haven’t got a clear response. It would be useful if you want to deport someone, which we presumably don’t want to do.

    I’m not necessarily outraged by it. We stripped citizenship from German/Italian Americans that returned to fight for their country of origin in World War II. However, it was easy to construe those actions as an intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship for that of Germany or Italy. What nation state is an al-Qaeda supporter adhering to?

  2. PD:

    This just strikes me as far too ambiguous. There isn’t a whole lot of room for interpretation if someone leaves the country and dons another country’s uniform during a hot war.

    And the more I think about it, I am even further convinced that this is a solution to a nonexistent problem.

  3. Triumph says:

    I’m all in favour of getting rid of terrorists–however, we need to insure that they are tortured first. Lieberman’s law doesn’t go far enough in this regard.

    If we require torture we will be sure to get good information about the terror cells–just deporting them without torturing them will deprive us from the relevant info.

  4. John Burgess says:

    The only utility I can see would be to use the law to bar an erstwhile American citizen from returning to the US if identified and stripped of citizenship while abroad.

    That might prove marginally beneficial, but I don’t really see much to get excited about.

    It could prove interesting, though, if we started to see a bunch of Sinn Fein supporters being stripped of US citizenship and put back on a boat to Ireland…

    I’m sure Teddy would be running up the RPMs were that to prove the case.

  5. Ugh says:

    Funny that this seems to only apply to “foreign” terrorist organizations.

  6. Michael says:

    Funny that this seems to only apply to “foreign” terrorist organizations.

    That makes you wonder, if some group started calling themselves ‘Al Qaeda in America”, would they count under this bill or not?

  7. anjin-san says:

    Not hard to figure out what this is really about. Obama’s watch – a terrorist attack is averted. The perp is arrested in a lawful manner & he is talking, no torture necessary. Pretty much a worst case scenario as far as the right is concerned.

    So now we have this crap and the “we got lucky” meme from the right. Disappointing, but hardly surprising.

  8. Dan says:

    This video is great! The No Apology Song:

    The more people that hear this, the better. It’s not too late to wake up Americans so we can bring America back! Let’s spread this everywhere we can!

  9. warem says:

    I personally despise it and want it voted down. I found out about it by the Yahoo news Article. Many people made comments about Tea Party people and them being classified as terrorist by the Fed; Anyone notice how the Terrorist Expatriation Act spells TEA?Flex Factor