The recent push by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and others to amend existing law to make it possible for American citizens to be stripped of their citizenship if they are suspected of having ties to terrorist organizations seems to fulfill no practical need other than to give lawmakers some additional psychological satisfaction.
After all, the criminal investigation into the attempted bombing of Times Square by Faisal Shahzad hasn't been impeded one whit because Shahzad is an American citizen. But Joe Lieberman really, really, really doesn't think the normal legal processes will satisfy his id-based cravings, and so he's poised to do something stupid, because it will make him feel good.
But beyond that, the biggest problem with what Lieberman wants to do is that does nothing more than add a complicated, extra layer of legal wrangling to something that's already plenty complicated, in pursuit of an outcome that's titanically difficult to achieve. All of which has been rather eloquently stated by David Frum, writing for The Week, who says that Lieberman's idea is a "bad idea" that will "plunge prosecutors into an even deeper morass of litigation."
Proponents of the bill go in front of teevee cameras to tell you how simple this whole idea is. All they're doing is tweaking an old law! No big whoop! Since the 1940s, there have been statutes that allow courts to strip Americans of their citizenship. But Frum points out that this law was "reconsidered" by the Supreme Court in 1967, in Afroyim v. Rusk. Per Frum:
Following the case, Congress amended the nationality law. U.S. citizens can be deprived of their citizenship if - and only if - they have betrayed their allegiance to the United States "with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality."
Even bearing arms against the United States merely creates a presumption that the citizen intended to relinquish his nationality. The treacherous citizen retains the right to rebut that presumption in court.
Which means that if Lieberman's law were in effect today, we would not short-circuit any legal process against alleged terrorists like Faisal Shahzad. To the contrary! We'd be on our way to court right now to litigate the issue whether the Times Square bomber's bombing plot indicated an intent to relinquish his nationality. Only after taking that issue through trial and appeal (maybe multiple appeals) could we get to work questioning and punishing him.
Think about it: right now, prosecutors are building a case against Faisal. There's no reason in the world to believe it's not speeding forth with appropriate alacrity. If today, you forced prosecutors to first participate in some citizenship-stripping proceedings with this high degree of difficulty that was ultimately entirely superfluous to the process, would you not feel that this was just a pointless delay? Just get on with it!
David Frum: Terrorists should keep their citizenship [The Week]