promoting the unwanted, redheaded stepchild that is individual liberty

‘Rights Aren’t Rights if Someone Can Take Them Away’

In Individual Sovereignty, liberty and rights, politics, rights on May 7, 2010 at 1:25 am

Who says Congress is can’t come together for the common good?

Yesterday, in a rare display of bipartisanship, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA) and Congressmen Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA) introduced the Terrorist Expatriation Act.

It should be renamed the American Citizen Expatriation Act.

The bill aims to strip Americans of their citizenship if suspected of affiliating with a foreign terrorist organization and are apprehended abroad. It would amend the 1940s bill, 8 USC 1481, which gives the federal government the power to strip Americans of their citizenship if they choose to fight for a foreign military force. So far, the White House appears to not support the bill.

Senator Joe Lieberman, the bill’s main architect, wants to expand 8 USC 1481.

“Because it just seems to me if you basically declare yourself to be an enemy of the United States you’re no longer entitled to the rights of citizenship,” he said.

While civil liberties groups are rightfully crying “unconstitutional” and pointing to the bill’s disregard for due process, Lieberman’s remarks reveal a more serious, and dangerous, assumption: That the rights of Americans are dependent on their status as citizens and therefore, may be taken away.

Deceased controversial comedian George Carlin is rolling over in his grave:

“Rights aren’t rights if someone can take them away, they’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country is a bill of temporary privileges.”

But the U.S. Constitution wasn’t meant to protect “temporary privileges” — it was meant to recognize already existing human rights. Having these rights declared in the first ten amendments of a document doesn’t make them valid.

Actually, the Bill of Rights doesn’t even bother differentiating between citizens and non-citizens. Like the freedoms of expression and religious conviction, justice is not some privilege to be revoked. It is an inherent right — one that suspected terrorists own.

  1. Jessica,

    From my reading of Amendment XIV to the Constitution, you are technically correct. However, that document is clearly written to protect persons who value their citizenship and esteem its provisions as well as its protections. When a person who is a U.S. citizen declares himself an enemy of his country, BY EITHER WORD OR DEED, it seems to me that she or he is, in effect, renouncing their citizenship. If that is Senator Lieberman’s premise, then I agree with it and the U.S. government would merely be documenting the person’s own decision. I believe Senator Lieberman may be making a tactical error by proposing to “take away” such person’s citizenship.

    A cursory Google search does not reveal to me that the concept of de facto renunciation has been legally tested, but I can easily imagine a Supreme Court decision confirming that such actions or statements, properly documented with due process, are just that. Senator Brown, in your video clip, came close to expressing the renunciation concept I am suggesting and I hope that is the way the bill is written.

    As a matter of interest and just for example, I found that about 500 Americans gave up their citizenship in 2006, mostly for tax purposes (see Ref at end), and the number has been as high as 2000 in one year. This being legally permissible, then I really can’t feel negative about this bill. If it passes, you will hear me cheering. If it does, it will probably be tested.

    As for George Carlin, I suspect he is laughing more than rolling (he was just full of surprises).


    (Ref: )

  2. According to the Declaration Of Independence, we are “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights… among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. (italics mine) Per the Founders, all human rights come from our creator, not from the government. The Bill of Rights is, in effect, not a granting of rights at all, but a set of limitations on what the government can do so as to keep that power with the people. Ergo many of those things are, in fact, dependent upon being a citizen, or at least being physically present in this country, since they are controls on the actions of our government. For example, freedom of speech is not a universal right. Ask Mark Steyn about Canada’s take on that one.

    Furthermore, there are certain rights of American citizenship that are not universal to all people, such as the right to vote in elections, for example. Another advantage to citizenship is the right to be Mirandized and to have a trial in civilian courts rather than military tribunals, with certain exceptions. If those are all that Lieberman is suggesting be taken away, then what is the problem, really? Other than the fact he makes it sound as though those rights should be taken away on the mere suggestion of an affiliation with a terrorist organization rather than proof in a court of law, a right to which an American citizen is entitled, that is. Get rid of “suspected” and replace it with “convicted” or “admitted” and I think he’s on to something, really. Odd that one would have to go through a trial in order to prove that one doesn’t have the right to a trial, but there ya go.

    Joining such organizations should be seen as a de facto renunciation of citizenship. I would go further and suggest that proven or admitted affiliation with known terrorist organizations should be seen as the same as joining the military forces of a nation fighting against the United States, and the citizen who is found guilty of or confesses to being affiliated with such terrorist organizations should be punished exactly as though they had done just that. Once proven or admitted, one could, in the case of groups like Al Qaeda or the Taliban which are declared (by them) enemies of the American state, go so far as to say a citizen has committed treason. I’m not sure I’m ready to go that far, but I bet I could be convinced.

    Furthermore, to tie this in with the other hot topic, since many don’t seem to hold citizenship in very high regard and are willing to give basic citizenship rights to anyone who enters this country illegally, why would anyone be up in arms over Lieberman’s suggestion? If we think so little of those rights that we’ll grant them to anyone, do we really hold them dear enough to be upset when someone threatens to take them away? If illegals can live as citizens, surely someone who has ostensibly been stripped of citizenship could do so as well, right?

    As I stated, take away “suggested” and replace it with “proven” and I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing at all.

  3. Nonny,

    Of course you strike at the heart of the issue, as you should, i.e., “due process”. For the Lieberman/Brown law to be just, it must have that, of course. But I think you protest too much. Please note that in my comment I did include that due process would be necessary.

    I am hoping that the application of this law, which I have not read (and I suspect you haven’t either), would apply only to such people as the Islamic radical cleric who made video’s condemning his native America, or to other American citizens who have made publicly-witnessed and documented statements of a similar nature, or have performed acts of violence that are well-documented and clearly self-motivated.

    When you say that Lieberman “. . . makes it sound as though those rights should be taken away on the mere suggestion of an affiliation with a terrorist organization rather than proof in a court of law . . . “, I believe that you are leaping to an unwarranted conclusion.

    While the devil is always in the details and there is admittedly room for mischief if the law is not properly worded, there is no reason why due process cannot be obtained in many cases. Certainly terrorist organizations like to use publicity as much as they can. If this law discourages such publicity, so much the better.

    In such cases I see little difference between a State Department official witnessing the signing of a form renouncing citizenship and a U.S. judge certifying a similar conclusion based on conclusive evidence, thus preserving the separation of powers. Further, I assume and hope that such a judgement would be subject to appeal should convincing evidence to the contrary be presented, but in the cases I envision that would be most unlikely.

    Jim (my real name) Wheeler

  4. What? You don’t think Nonny is my real name? 🙂

    I wasn’t really referring to your reply when I made my own, Jim. In fact I thought your reply was fine and perfectly sensible. As you stated, I have not read the proposed bill. I was, and still am, basing my opinions based on what Jessica has posted about it. I too hope that the law would only apply to those as you define them.

    The basis for my statement that Lieberman might be willing to take away citizenship rights on a mere suggestion is Jessica’s first sentence of the fourth paragraph, which reads “The bill aims to strip Americans of their citizenship if suspected of affiliating with a foreign terrorist organization and are apprehended abroad.” (emphasis mine) That doesn’t read well to me, hence my stating that “suspected” (which I mistakenly typed as “suggested” the second time) needs to be replaced with “convicted” or “admitted”. In other words, due process.

    So in effect, I think we’re arguing the same point here. It seems to me you think the law will work. I do as well, provided the wording provides for due process, as these folks are American citizens until such time as it is decided (or they choose to state) that they are no longer.

    A Nonny (most decidedly not my real name) Moose

  5. As a newbie blogger I am still discovering the difficulties of reading between the lines on posts. It’s a special challenge when sarcasm is employed. Emoticons help in that case (Strunk and White are spinning!) 😉

    I’m glad to know we are pretty much on the same page here. Thanks for the reply.


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