Say It Ain't So, Joe

When Shoeless Joe Jackson was charged with participation in a plot by several Chicago White Sox players to throw the 1919 World Series, he was (or so the story goes) confronted by a young fan who begged him, "Say it ain't so, Joe."

I'm not quite as enamored of Joe Lieberman as I am of Joe Jackson (Jackson had a much higher batting average) but I have nonetheless been partial to Lieberman since I came to know him during our service together in Congress. I have long considered him a man of principle and of sound values. I have also considered him a man of good judgment.

I'm not writing today to announce that my views of Joe Lieberman have changed -- I still like him -- but his most recent emergence into the public spotlight has not been one to earn him credit.

Lieberman has announced, in the wake of an attempted car bombing in New York, that he intends to enact legislation that would effectively strip terrorists of their United States citizenship. A couple of clarifications, though. His legislation would not actually strip terrorists of citizenship because the government has no constitutional right to take away the citizenship of any person who has it. But the law does permit a finding that a person has voluntarily revoked his or her citizenship, whether overtly or constructively (constructively if one has joined the military of a government at war with the United States or committed treason or sworn an oath of allegiance to a foreign state). What Mr. Lieberman says his bill will do is extend the same constructive finding (that a person intended to give up citizenship) if he or she has provided material support to an enemy.

But here's where it all goes haywire, and dangerously so. First, his legislation is not just aimed at "terrorists" or their supporters; it would strip away citizenship (by finding that one had intended to surrender it) even if one had no intention of doing so. For example, if one were to work with a "terrorist" organization to push it to renounce the use of violence and adopt the peaceful pursuit of its goals. Or if one were to provide support for the building of a hospital or a child-care center for an organization that has been labeled "terrorist" but is not in conflict with the United States. An individual who contributes to a fund to repair a medical facility in Gaza might thus fall into the category of persons Mr. Lieberman's legislation would construe as having chosen to renounce their American citizenship.

This determination of intent to surrender one's citizenship would not be made in a court of law but (a) by a bureaucrat in the State Department and (b) on the basis of "suspicion," the suspicion needing only to exist in the mind of the bureaucrat. Given the political pressure to be proactive in safeguarding the homeland, one can easily imagine that it would be easier, and safer, to determine that one intended to revoke one's citizenship than to correctly note the tenuous nature of a contention that one was engaged in an assault on the security and liberties of fellow Americans.

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Mickey Edwards spent 16 years in Congress and 16 years teaching at Harvard and Princeton. He is a director of The Constitution Project and wrote Reclaiming Conservatism. More

Mickey Edwards was a member of Congress for 16 years and a chairman of the House Republican leadership's policy committee. After leaving Congress, he taught at Harvard for 11 years, where he was voted the Kennedy School's most outstanding teacher, and at Princeton for five years. He currently runs a political leadership program for elected officials as Vice President of the Aspen Institute and teaches defense policy and foreign policy at George Washington University. He has been a weekly columnist for The L.A. Times and The Chicago Tribune and is a weekly commentator on National Public Radio. Edwards served for five years as national chairman of the American Conservative Union and the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. He was one of three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation. In 1980, he directed more than a dozen joint House-Senate policy advisory task forces for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign. He is a director of The Constitution Project and has chaired task forces for the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution. He served on the American Bar Association task force that condemned President George W. Bush, and his most recent book, Reclaiming Conservatism, was published in 2008.

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