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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lieberman Bill Threatens Your Citizenship, Our Economy

Could your citizenship be in jeopardy if a new Senate bill passes?

Connecticut's "independent" Senator Joseph Lieberman has proposed (and Massachusetts' new Senator Scott Brown has co-sponsored) a new Senate bill (S.3327 link here) providing that suspected enemy combatants be subject to losing their citizenship and be tried before a military commission instead of a civilian jury in a regular criminal case.   Put aside the desire to combat terrorism; this bill has dangerous implications while likely to have absolutely no value in actually protecting anyone or deterring either regular homicide or terrorism-related homicide attempts. 

This bill is undoubtedly a byproduct of the Times Square car bomb attempt, which while it may be terrorist-related, should be viewed in its essence as an attempt to kill people.   The fact that it is terrorism-related should not make the harm any greater, just as a non-terrorism-related attempted murder should never be viewed as somewhat benign.  The difference is merely one of scope; terrorism threatens multiple people and generally is thought of as less avoidable, whereas many people think they can avoid the hard-core criminal or the high-crime areas or the isolated nut-job who threatens mayhem.   This is a fundamental flaw in the criminal code when legislators focus on some particular 'intent' as enhancing the crime, when the harm actually threatened or suffered is really no different to the victim.  But this issue is more about grandstanding -- or finding a crisis convenient to justify another expansion of government power and infringement on your civil libertiesI  It certainly does not seem to be about actually protecting people.

The nature of our legal system is based on precedent and thus allows and encourages lawyers and judges to base future arguments and decisions on prior precedent, I.e. What was done earlier. This precedential system explains why some legal commentators -- like us -- are troubled by the risks this proposed bill presents to the constitutional rights and protections of citizens.

The spectre of removing citizenship should be used sparingly and only in the most extreme cases where removal has a practical, as opposed to symbolic, meaning. Revoking citizenship from a naturalized person suggests that anyone's citizenship is discretionary and could -- however theoretically -- be pulled for good, bad or no reason. Of course the decision (and the law) would be reviewable in court, but the risk of losing citizenship remains. For a people taught that we have citizenship by birthright, the idea of the government having any ability to revoke citizenship must be scary.

At the very least, when citizenship can be revoked, how comfortable can you be about your other rights? Property rights? Contract rights? The rule of law? Without the foregoing, you don't have trust, and without trust, you cannot have a market-based economy.

Senator Lieberman is a former Connecticut Attorney General.  He is the latest to join the parade of prosecutors-turned-politicians who think an expansion of the criminal code (as opposed to more cops on the beat or,  heavens forbid, more border patrolmen) is the answer to what ails our nation.   Crime, Politics and Policy strongly disapproves of this Senate bill and urges all readers to contact their representatives in Congress to voice their opposition.

Eric Dixon is an attorney in New York who handles legislative, strategic and legal analysis as well as regular legal matters.   He can be reached at 917-696-2442 and through this blog at

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