The ‘What Reasonable Doubt?’ Act of 2010

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA), joined on the House side by Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA), today introduced a little publicity stunt in legislative form called the Terrorist Expatriation Act, making good on Lieberman’s pledge to find a way to strip the citizenship of Americans—whether naturalized or native born—who are suspected of aiding terrorist groups. It does so by amending the Immigration and Nationality Act, which lays out the various conditions under which a person may renounce or be deprived of citizenship. 

A couple things to note about this:

First, the act as it stands now contains a provision that could probably be used to revoke the citizenship of terrorists. One of the ways to trigger the loss of citizenship is by:

committing any act of treason against, or attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States, violating or conspiring to violate any of the provisions of section 2383 of title 18, or willfully performing any act in violation of section 2385 of title 18, or violating section 2384 of title 18 by engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them…

So why isn’t this enough to satisfy them?  Well, I left off the very end of the clause:

if and when he is convicted thereof by a court martial or by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Needless to say, actually “bearing arms against the United States” is a rather more serious offense than providing “material support” for terrorist groups.  Indeed, someone who knowingly provides funding or “expert assistance” (including legal or humanitarian aid) to a designated group may, under current law, be guilty of providing “material support.”  Yet these more serious acts of betrayal still require that someone be convicted in court before the penalty of expatriation can be imposed. If they want to revoke Faisal Shahzad’s citizenship, they can do it already: just convict him of one of those offenses.

Another clause of the existing law provides that someone who joins a foreign military may, indeed, lose their citizenship without being convicted of anything. But as a subsequent section of the statute makes clear, citizenship can’t be revoked on these grounds while the person remains in the United States.  They have to actually, physically “go over to the other side” and take up residence abroad. So again, the assumption is that someone residing in the U.S., and therefore subject to apprehension and trial, ought in fact to be tried before such a drastic step is taken, even if we’re prepared to skip the trial when someone is actually overseas and marching about in an enemy uniform.

Finally, note that the bill’s definition of “material support” for terrorist groups explicitly invokes the criminal statute covering such actions.  Which is to say, revocation of citizenship under the new bill is triggered by committing a particular federal crime. Except that the Immigration and Nationality Act only requires that one of the predicates for revocation be established by a “preponderance of the evidence.” So in effect, the bill takes what is already a crime and says: Proof of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” is no longer a prerequisite for the imposition of punishment for this crime. 

What a convenient end-run around that pesky due process!  Just think how we could reduce the burden on our courts by doing this for all sorts of crimes!