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Here's how Joe Lieberman's citizenship-stripping bill would work

By now you've heard that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is proposing a new law that could potentially strip Americans of their citizenship if they're involved with foreign terrorist organizations.

Two things you should know about this: First, it isn't just some paranoid liberal nightmare. It's actually moving forward. Lieberman is going to hold a presser tomorrow to introduce the bill, I'm told, along with Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already signaled he could support this.

Second, Lieberman's office has clarified to me how the law would work: It would empower the State Department to conclude -- on its own -- that Americans are conspiring with terror groups and should be stripped of their citizenship.

Lieberman's law would amend an earlier statute that details other things that can cost you citizenship: Serving in the army of a foreign state, pledging allegiance to a foreign state, and so on. In those cases the State Department decides whether your disloyalty merits loss of citizen status. Lieberman's law would add involvement with a foreign terror organization -- as opposed to a foreign state -- to this list.

Who would determine whether you're involved with a foreign terror group? The State Department. It already decides what is and isn't designated as a terror organization. Lieberman's law would also empower State to determine whether you are in league with one of these groups.

Here's where it gets more complicated. You would still have the right to contest this in court. And if you did, the burden of proof would be on State -- not on you -- to persuade the court that your involvement with a terror organization is sufficient to justify taking away your citizen status.

Bottom line: Lieberman's law can't keep you out of court against your will if you want to contest efforts to strip your citizenship. And chances are that if you were already facing other charges -- plotting or executing a terrorist act -- you would be simultaneously tried for that in civilian court, too, even as State continued to try to revoke your citizen status.

Lieberman is introducing this tomorrow. So at a minimum there could be a national debate about it. My bet is more Dems than you might think will be afraid to oppose this.

UPDATE, 4:30 p.m.:: Schumer has now come out against Lieberman's proposal.

By Greg Sargent  |  May 5, 2010; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy and national security , House Dems , Senate Dems  
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Next: Schumer comes out against Lieberman's citizenship-stripping plan


I think that this goes WAY too far.

Will this even come up for a vote?

Posted by: maritza1 | May 5, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Totally one hundred per cent off topic but I have to run and if you folks haven't seen the "It ain't like starting a lawnmower" then it's time you saw it

Posted by: bernielatham | May 5, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone in congress ever read the US Constitution? Among the powers of Congress is not one that would in any way even suggest that they could deprive a US citizen of that citizenship. Maybe, and only maybe, could there be a case for a naturalized citizen, but if you are born a citizen then that is that. What utter hogwash. Liberman is more and more of a national disgrace.

Posted by: John1263 | May 5, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Great, another knee jerk reaction from Traitor Joe.

Maybe instead of this, Congress should be focusing on the apparent loop hole that allowed this guy to board a plane after he was placed on a no-fly list.

OT but of importance, I saw this linked from another site regarding the deep horizon drilling that blew up in the Gulf. I rly don't know how truthful it is but if it's even remotely possible, this would suck.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | May 5, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Greg, FYI none of the links in the comments from previous thread are working. I had to exit and re-open site to get to new thread, even refresh wouldn't bring it up.

Posted by: lmsinca | May 5, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Greg, Dems will be afraid to oppose this, because Dems, as you have repeatedly pointed out, have ceded national security entirely to the Republicans. Instead of defending Obama and highlighting progress, they were silent. They'll pay for that silence by being forced to vote in favor of an unnecessary law that does nothing except make Joe Lieberman feel like a big tough guy.

Posted by: CTVoter | May 5, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

As Benen said earlier today:

Joe Lieberman, Yale Law wants its diploma back.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | May 5, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

All the articles on scenarios that could occur on that site I posted above are pretty frightening to be honest.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | May 5, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

lmsinca, apologies for the difficulties -- can you explain?

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 5, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I think the first person to be stripped of citizenship under the new law should be Joe Lieberman, for a criminal misunderstanding of the Constitution.

Posted by: EdTheRed | May 5, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Imsinca, links aren't live on WaPo.

An easier way to get to the next post is to copy the link, and then paste it directly into your browser. It will take you to the opened post.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | May 5, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Stripping of citizenship is already part of US law and has been used, even recently, e.g. John Demnanjuk, who was a US citizen for decades but whose citizenship was revoked due to his participation in a Nazi-linked orgnaization. So this would be simply add another reason. It is by no means a misreading of the constitution. The issue of whether we need this amendment is up for debate.

Posted by: Observer20 | May 5, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

So the Senator from Israel doesn't see the irony in his pushing such an ill conceived bill?

Posted by: TakingOffSoon | May 5, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Greg, just go to one of the links in any comment and none of them work. To get to this thread I couldn't click on your link to get here I had to reload. I doubt I'm the only one having trouble. I tried to highlight mike's link above and do a quick google search, that didn't work either. I'm getting ready to copy and paste to see if that works.

Posted by: lmsinca | May 5, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I don't suppose Holy Joe considers Israel a foreign state, but we have a whole slew of political operatives who have dual citizenship, pledge loyalty to Israel and have served in the Israeli army. I suppose there will be a loophole that you could drive a truckload of stolen US Military secrets through.

Posted by: henk2 | May 5, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Though you could get your day in court, note that it's not a criminal proceeding -- the standard is "preponderance of evidence," not "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Not that it will matter much to many so-called "law and order" types ("order with or without law" would be more accurate), since they frequently advocate policies that only make sense if every suspect is presumed guilty.

Posted by: jimeh | May 5, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

@Greg: Since this is a blog of "opinionated reporting," what's your opinion?

Seems to me that if the State department can already strip you of citizenship for serving in a foreign army then it's not such a stretch to strip citizenship if you're working with al qaeda. Not sure that this would apply to the Times Square twit, though...

Posted by: sbj3 | May 5, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

The reason why I think this is the dumbest idea ever is that why is a terrorist who supports a foreign terror organization any different that a terrorist who supports a domestic terror organization. The Hutararee targeted domestic government building and officials, which some would argue is a declaration of war against the country. This has to be a violation of equal protection on a number of levels, and quite frankly I think it's close to racist.

Posted by: jrshipp | May 5, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse


Read it again.

"This is a blog of reported opinion."

Posted by: suekzoo1 | May 5, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Sue, I did the copy and paste in my browser and that works, but then you have to come back to Greg by reloading. Why aren't they live. It seems inconvenient compared to the Plumline where you could bounce back and forth quickly. I'll survive, I guess but I think it's worth pointing out. It sort of makes the conversation slower IMO.

Posted by: lmsinca | May 5, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Well, it's not as bad as I thought...though it's still an overreach that p*sses on the Constitution. I find it really odd that Scheumer would sign onto this. I fail to see how this would do anything but hurt his chances at Majority Leader.

Posted by: TheBBQChickenMadness | May 5, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

@suekzoo1: "I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to do this kind of opinionated reporting in a blogospheric idiom from such a storied platform."

Just wondering how Greg felt about the proposal. He's sort of dancing around, a bit like a politician who wants it both ways. Sometimes it's helpful to understand the reporter's opinion; I understand his bias, but I'm unclear where he stands on this after the clarification. He is not obliged to respond.

Posted by: sbj3 | May 5, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Huh - sounds like IDF soldier Jeffrey Goldberg is eligible for some citizenship-stripping.

Posted by: HeavyJ | May 5, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I hear ya, Imsinca. I think that's just how it is here at WaPo. I don't recall ever seeing any live links in comments, just in articles or blog posts.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | May 5, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Welcome Greg.

I'm pleased and sort of amazed at your being here, I had begun to think that one had to be an ex-Bush speechwriter to get space at the WAPO.

Credit where credit is due, however, some actual balance for a change.

Bon courage.

Posted by: BillEPilgrim | May 5, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Given that Joe Lieberman is practically a camp follower of the IDF, and the IDF burned civilians alive in the Gaza Massacre, his citizenship should also be forfeited.

What a wretched excuse for a human being.

Posted by: jelperman | May 5, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Oh, this proposal is far more evil than Greg suggests.

The problem is that this proposal would leave people stateless. If I pledge allegiance to another country, say Syria, then presumably Syria will give me citizenship or some form of protection. If the US wants to kick me out, then I can go to Syria.

But if the US can strip Americans of their citizenship for joining up with organizations -- well, let's just say we're not deporting anyone to the sovereign state of Al Qaeda.

What happens to stateless people who the US wants to deport? Indefinite detention. We might presumably have a slew of former Americans imprisoned for life, based on "involvement" with a terrorist group. That's scary.

Posted by: jb1151 | May 5, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Personally I think all of this is just a way to bypass Miranda laws. When they passed in the 60's conservatives didn't like them then and they still don't like them. It's really obfuscating their distaste of giving certain criminal elements Miranda warnings. But isn't anyone arrested within the US subject to Miranda whether citizen or not? We have the public safety clause which can delay Miranda already so why try something like this now?

And do you strip them of their citizenship before they're even arrested or tried and convicted? Seems like more fear mongering.

Posted by: lmsinca | May 5, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

So let's suppose, hypothetically of course, that the State Department decides that AIPAC is a foreign terrorist organization because of its support for Israel's anti-Palestinian military campaigns -- does this mean that the Senator from Israel will lose HIS citizenship?

Oh yeah -- I forgot; the rules are different for Joe, aren't they?

Posted by: gr8day4bsbll | May 5, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

"What happens to stateless people who the US wants to deport? Indefinite detention. We might presumably have a slew of former Americans imprisoned for life, based on "involvement" with a terrorist group. That's scary."

Good point jb1151.

Posted by: lmsinca | May 5, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The ACLU will oppose this and this may go all the way to the Supreme court.

Posted by: maritza1 | May 5, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I read somewhere that the original law that strips citizenship for joining a foreign military exempts service in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Posted by: cmccauley60 | May 5, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

I like Andrew Sullivan's take on the larger picture:

"The appalling behavior of John McCain and Joe Lieberman this past week underlines what a bullet this country missed by electing Barack Obama president. This, remember, was McCain's original dream-ticket - before a forty hour Google search unleashed brain-dead boobage across the land. Look at their instincts: find a citizen terror suspect and tear up the constitution to ... do what exactly? McCain won't say. Or: strip the guy of citizenship immediately and then get to work on him."

Posted by: suekzoo1 | May 5, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

This seems uncontroversial apart from process, and I am skeptical that it proposes State to have unilateral power.

I am convinced that the stridency with which lefties denounce the supposed constitutional ignorance of others varies inversely with their own constitutional knowledge.

Posted by: quarterback1 | May 5, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Schumer has now come out against Lieberman's plan:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 5, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Democrats in Congress should not support this bill out of fear. They should embrace it because it's the right thing to do. Commenters here bloviating about the Constitution surely must know that Congress can decide who becomes a citizen and how (it can even confer citizenship directly on a particular individual). Moreover, applying the same standards that the law now provides for people who serve in the armies of enemy states makes good sense in an era when non-state terrorist groups present a far more serious threat to the US than nation-states.

This sort of knee-jerk opposition to counter-terrorism measures might give some folks the idea that people on the left really don't much care about the threat posed by terrorists. Fortunately, I think most (although by no means all) elected Democratic officials do care and will act accordingly -- with or without the support of Plum Line or the ACLU.

Posted by: jeburke242 | May 5, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Observer20, John Demjanjuk was stripped of his citizenship because he obtained it illegally by falsifying his war record.

LIE-berman's bill would strip citizenship from anyone -even someone who was born and lived his entire life here.

Posted by: jelperman | May 5, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I don't see how anyone could object to Lieberman's idea. It worked so well for the emperor Tiberius.

Posted by: jimfromnc | May 5, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

So would this include members of Likud?

Posted by: branfo4 | May 5, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

"LIE-berman's bill would strip citizenship from anyone -even someone who was born and lived his entire life here."

I don't see how this bill could be applied to people born on US soil whose citizenship is granted by birthright per the constitution.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | May 5, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

if it passes start with Rahm.

Posted by: obrier2 | May 5, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Lieberman is a traitor to the constitution and should be stripped of his citizenship. He is aiding and abetting the terrorists by taking away our freedoms, just like the terrorists intend.

Posted by: member5 | May 5, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Why strip citizenship from people associating only with FOREIGN terrorist groups? Why not strip the citizenship of our own homegrown terrorists?

Why do members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and White Supremacy groups need citizenship in a country they want to destroy?

Oh yeah. People might actually notice if you did.

Posted by: mruth | May 5, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Ask Joe if it will apply to Jonathan Pollard?

Posted by: ejgallagher1 | May 5, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution bars Congress from passing any bill of attainder or ex post facto law. A bill of attainder is an act of the legislature punishing a person or group of persons without benefit of a trial. Likewise, the 5th Amendment to the Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. There is a liberty and a property interest in your citizenship. It is as if Holly Joe Lieberman and the Republicans have never read the bill of rights. And (with apologies to The Onion) I don’t mean a thorough grounding the subtleties of Constitutional law, but, rather, the 15 seconds it takes to the read the 5th Amendment.

Posted by: codexjust1 | May 5, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

HaHaHaHa! I imagine BO will oppose it since he has dual citizenship (British and Indonesian) and represented himself as natural born citizen so he could be president. He is giving away our country to foreign nationals!

Posted by: MonicaS1 | May 5, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Maybe he will attempt to undo the 14th amendment and placed the people who get their citizenship revoked for terrorist activities placed into a new form of slavery.

Posted by: Aberlyion | May 5, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

start with Lieberman, Pollard,Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Yoo, Bybee, Ailes, Kristol, Rove, Bush, Cheney. gosh i could go on forever with this list. Are you sure this is possible, sounds too good to be true. this is such a good idea. Who need the Constitution anyway.
W did away with that years ago.

Posted by: Beleck31 | May 5, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

Hahahaha! MonicaS1 doesn't understand that she is endorsing giving unlimited power to President Obama to declare her a terrorist, strip her of her citizenship and deport her... for what she just wrote.

Insane racists are so funny!

Posted by: allanbrauer | May 6, 2010 4:06 AM | Report abuse

What a shameful breech of human rights, an arbitrary decision to declare a Persona Non Grata status based on what constitutes a terrorist group or not inter alia.

America has not declared the leader of the suicide bombers a terrorist and yet clearly the bombing of innocent people on a railway is pure terrorism.So technically I could belong to this clique of murderers and not lose my American citizenship. Way to go Lieberman!!

Posted by: abm_ww3 | May 6, 2010 4:26 AM | Report abuse

This man is clearly insane. He must be stripped of his title of Senator.

Posted by: Berliner2 | May 6, 2010 4:38 AM | Report abuse

Joe Lieberman is the worst of both parties combined into one giant steaming pile that won't shut up or go away.

Posted by: millionea81 | May 6, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Ha Ha Ha.

Watch the sissy old USA with it's cherished "freedom" and "rights" fold faster than superman at the laundramat when it's nose gets bloodied a few times.

We'll be torturing US citizens in no time.

Maybe it's time for us to move back in with our parents because the mean old Muslim man beat us up on the school bus.

Posted by: jamesbrummel | May 6, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

As a conservative on most issues, I must disagree with the proposed law as I understand it. If one is born in this country, taking away citizenship is quite drastic. William Ayers was born here. Should he have had his citizenship revoked for participation in terrorist acts for which he is unrepentant? He was not convicted because the case was marred by FBI Cointel and they dropped the charges. I believe the laws as they exist now are adequate. Traitors to this country and murdering terrorists who are natural born Americans, should posthumously, after being executed have their citizenship revoked.

I would have to think about stripping even William Ayers of his citizenship. It is very very tempting in his case.

Posted by: LETFREEDOMRING2 | May 7, 2010 2:53 AM | Report abuse

What about the American Taliban, caught in Afganistan and now serving a prison term. Would he also be stripped of his citizenship?

Posted by: kms123 | May 7, 2010 7:23 AM | Report abuse

Lieberman is inspired by the Israeli military power to deport anyone deemed an "infiltrator" in the West Bank. A military tribunal determines whether you stay or go:

It doesn't stand a Constitutional chance, but I hope this gets as much scrutiny as the Arizona law....

Posted by: gerbils | May 7, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

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